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Beating Surgeon Burnout: Advice From Your Peers

By Thomas Gole, DO, FAAFP10 Oct 2016

Surg_Burn.jpg“Doctors and other health workers pay dearly for the relentless stress of patient care, a plight compounded by mounting bureaucracy and accelerating change in the healthcare industry,” Dr. Mark Greenawald concluded after tragically losing one of his ob-gyn patients during childbirth, and being unable to successfully process the grief from the experience.

Not surprisingly, a recent study from The Mayo Clinic found nearly half of physicians meet the criteria for burnout, compared to only 28 percent of non-medical workers. The study also found that doctors’ dissatisfaction with work-life balance “appears to be getting worse,” showing a 10 percent increase over three years.

Burnout Advice from Physicians

Your daily demands are increasing: You might be being told how many patients you need to see per day or find yourself drowning in an avalanche of electronic medical record updating.

U.S. News & World Report points out: “Surgeons and emergency room physicians … may spend 10 to 18 hours a day at the hospital, caring for grievously ill or injured patients. New performance improvement mandates from federal and state governments, insurers and professional organizations add another layer of bureaucracy and assure that doctors, who have long coveted their independence and authority, now work under a microscope.”

So, what can be done?

Medscape recently held a panel with physicians to find an answer to that question. Here is what your peers had to say about burnout in healthcare.

Everyone is different: No, you don’t have to take up yoga to reduce your stress—unless you like yoga, says Dr. Carol A. Bernstein.

“It is important for people to sit and think about the kinds of things that they can do that make them feel better, whether it's going out for a nice meal or doing yoga. Or it might even just be having an opportunity to have time off,” she says.

Consider your organization: While you can control some elements of your work-life balance, there are some—like how your employer operates—that you may feel powerless to address.

Dr. Christine Sinksy suggests the bulk of the reasons for burnout rests with the organization.

“ ... The most effective thing we can do to reduce burnout is to improve workflow. At Hennepin County in Minneapolis, they have found that by improving workflow, you can have an odds ratio of 6 of reducing burnout. It's the most potent intervention to reduce burnout,” she notes.

Think about how you feel: Working at a larger organization can make many physicians feel like their voices aren’t being heard, which can also play a big role in workflow and burnout issues, says Dr. Robert W. Brenner.

“The way to tackle that—and it's not easy; we all agree that it is complex—is to look at the culture … It's having a culture where a physician who is experiencing burnout will feel very comfortable about coming forward and saying, ‘I think I'm burned out,’ or will be more comfortable with a colleague coming up and saying, ‘I think you're burned out; let's talk about that.’ And having a means of addressing that,” he says.

Consult with your peers: It may seem like voicing your feelings is impossible within a large organization. But Bernstein recommends getting a group of your peers together and sharing their concerns with management.

“We do better in groups trying to bring [issues like depression or burnout] up the chain and whatever institutional organization we’re in,” she says.

Making small changes in your personal life can help reduce your feelings of surgeon burnout, but taking steps to address issues at your workplace can have a big impact on your well-being as well. Consider how your organization operates, if your peers have similar concerns and how you can address these issues.

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