Burnout is a work-related stress syndrome that occurs due to chronic exposure to job stress, which can happen to anyone in any profession. In the healthcare industry, Stefan De Hert shared that there was a 43% burnout rate among US physicians in 2020 alone. The same article revealed that nearly half (48%) of female physicians experience more symptoms of burnout than men, with 37%. Among the 29 medical specialties included in the survey, data showed that burnout is more prevalent in the specialties of urology, neurology, and nephrology.
Although these professionals differ in gender and medical specializations, they all suffer from the same source of burnout, such as high demands at work, time pressure, increased responsibilities, lack of resources, and poor work organization. As a result, healthcare workers are prone to delivering lower quality care and making frequent medical errors.
Apart from impaired work performance, burnout can negatively impact workers’ health. Gabor Maté, M.D. explained in his book, When the Body Says No, that stress is the most pervasive factor leading to illness. The book discussed how work-related stress is a major contributor to elevated blood pressure, higher levels of cholesterol, and weaker immune systems. Maté also shared insights on the profound relationship between the mind and the body as well as augmented the importance of understanding stress both in the causation of disease and in the restoration of health.
Tips to Combat Burnout
Remember to Take Breaks:
Although the job of a healthcare worker may require longer, and sometimes continuous, shifts, it’s important to remember that taking breaks is necessary. In our previous article on ‘How to Prepare for a 12-Hour Shift’, we shared that you must sleep before work, no matter if you have a day shift or a night shift. Experts believe that getting a few hours of sleep can help give you enough energy and brain power to function at work. When you’re having difficulties squeezing a full 8-hour sleep, you can take a 90-minute nap before work, especially if your shift is late, to help you stay alert, as this will cycle you through all sleep stages while avoiding sleep inertia. Always remember that you cannot properly take care of your patients if you cannot take care of yourself first.
Recognize Early Warning Signs:
Another way to combat burnout is to recognize when you’re about to experience it. Even if symptoms vary per individual, Allison Torres Burtka explained that the tell-tale signs of burnout are exhaustion, irritability, and loss of passion or purpose. If you’re starting to feel any of these symptoms, it’s time to step back and take a rest. Healthcare professionals are also human beings who have physical and emotional limits, and you’re going to burn yourself out if you don’t take preventive measures before things get worse. As a preventive measure, Torres Burtka said it’s important to understand your capacity and set boundaries at work. For example, if working a 12-hour shift is too much for you, schedule small breaks in-between two to three patients to give yourself time to relax.
Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Help:
Some healthcare workers may feel uncomfortable asking for help from others, especially when struggling with mental health. However, don’t be afraid to seek help from fellow medical professionals, friends, and family when your situation feels tough. Torres Burtka recommends talking to a trusted friend as a great way to release stress. If you need someone with more expertise, you can meet with a professional life coach who can help you create a practical work-life balance schedule. There are also licensed mental health professionals who can provide medical advice in managing and overcoming burnout. At the end of the day, showing vulnerability is not a sign of weakness but a determination to become a better healthcare provider and individual.