In order to truly understand and prevent burnout, we must first define what it is that burnout means to each of us.
Burnout, described by Thomas, as “a pathological syndrome in which emotional depletion and maladaptive detachment develop in response to prolonged occupational stress,” is both an epidemic in the health professional world and a trending topic in the medical education arena today.
Physician burnout has been shown to correlate with both the number of medical errors, increased malpractice suits, and overall patient satisfaction.
How or what causes burnout remains to be elucidated, and the jury is still out as to how we can mitigate this worrying trend.
What we do know is that burnout affects 50% of physicians in the USA and 25% of junior doctors in the UK. What makes this term so complicated is the variation in what burnout means to individual clinicians.
Studies show that burnout can reveal itself in a variety of ways such as:
1) Depersonalization of patients
2) Emotional exhaustion
3) A sense of decreased personal accomplishment
Given this broad range of definitions and symptoms, it is important to understand what burnout means to you. And further it is important to more deeply understand what it is that motivates physicians and perhaps prevents burnout in the long term.
A recent study at the Mass General Hospital in Boston, found that it is feeling valued, respected, and supported in the work environment, as opposed to paychecks, that are key qualities to prevent burnout in the health profession. We must work harder to cultivate a climate of respect and value for our clinicians to work within, in order to attempt to stem the tide on this growing burnout epidemic.
If you feel that you are burnt out, write down on a piece of paper what burnout means to you. See how this changes over the course of a working month, and try to evaluate if you are burnt out of specific elements of your job.
1.) Do you feel burnout when you are doing the administrative part of your work?
2.) Do you feel burnout when you are on-call?
3.) Do you feel burnout every day?
4.) Do you feel burnout when you are with patients?
By writing these down consecutively over a month, you can begin to assess if your are truly experiencing burnout, or whether there are certain triggers in your job leading to stress.
In order to truly understand and prevent burnout, we must first become much more proficient in defining what it is that burnout means to each of us.