Physician Burnout: Preventing, Identifying, and Managing It


Physician who is tired and overworked and burned out on their job

Caregiving is a beautiful career journey, but it can take an immense toll that can stifle your personal and professional life. The demanding nature of the profession can sometimes lead to burnout – a state of physical and emotional exhaustion. To continue providing optimal care and maintaining a healthy work-life balance, physicians must prioritize their health by learning how to identify, manage, and prevent burnout.

Identifying Symptoms of Physician Burnout

Nearly two-thirds of doctors are experiencing burnout. If you’re experiencing any of the factors below, you might be struggling with physician burnout:

  • Mental and Physical Exhaustion: Feeling emotionally depleted and physically tired, leading to a reduced ability to empathize with patients and colleagues and lacking focus on completing tasks efficiently. You may start isolating yourself more and find yourself becoming increasingly irritable or feeling negative about people and things that once brought you joy.
  • Reduced Personal Accomplishment: Experiencing a sense of incompetence and reduced satisfaction with one’s achievements, even when accomplishing significant milestones.
  • Relying on Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms: Utilizing mood altering substances or sleeping more than usual to cope with the stress of your work.

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Strategies to Manage Physician Burnout

  • Identify the Cause(s): Have you seen a significant increase in administrative work? Is the patient volume overwhelming? Is it a personal circumstance? Determine what changes you can make to curb the effect these factors have on your well-being.
  • Prioritize Physical Well-Being: Just as physicians emphasize the importance of self-care to patients, they must apply the same principles to themselves. Adhere to a consistent sleep schedule, maintain a balanced diet, and engage in regular physical activity that you enjoy.
  • Practice Mindfulness: Take breaks throughout the day to engage in techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, and yoga to mitigate stress. Studies have shown that practicing meditation for as little as 12 minutes a day produces significant benefits and guided classes are easily available through numerous free apps (Smiling Mind, Healthy Minds Program) and YouTube videos.
  • Set Boundaries at Home and at Work: Allocate specific times for relaxation, hobbies, and spending quality time with loved ones. Don’t hesitate to delegate tasks and collaborate with your medical team to share the workload and to keep you from feeling overwhelmed.
  • Seek Peer Support: Connect with fellow physicians to share experiences and concerns. Sometimes, discussing challenges with someone who understands the unique pressures can provide immense relief.

Preventing Future Physician Burnout by Investing in Long-Term Well-being

  • Pursue Interests Outside of Medicine: Engaging in hobbies and interests can serve as a mental escape and rejuvenate your spirit. Consider a recreational sports league, art class, volunteerism, or any kind of activity outside of the medical industry and make it a permanent fixture in your schedule.
  • Professional Development: Consider pursuing additional training or certification in a medical field that aligns with your interests. This can add fresh dimensions to your career and keep you engaged.
  • Formulate Your Long-Term Career Trajectory: Beyond average professional development opportunities, how can you take your career to the next level? Performing in a leadership role can be fulfilling and allow you to influence positive changes in the healthcare environment. Perhaps you’re looking to pivot to a different location, focus on research, or practice exclusively in a subspecialty. Strategizing the steps to get to your goal can help bring focus and motivation to your daily life.


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