Burnout is real – and it’s an increasingly common problem among doctors across the U.S. Physicians are being increasingly squeezed between tightening reimbursement rates, the demands of practice management, liability concerns, demanding schedules, regulatory burdens and the relentless onslaught of information. Patients can be difficult or uncooperative, or it could just be a matter of seeing too many patients die that can get to you.
According to research from the Mayo Clinic, more than half of practicing U.S. physicians are struggling with at least one symptom of burnout.
The keys to preventing or mitigating burnout are recognizing it when it’s beginning to set in, understanding the underlying causes, and regularly taking steps to mitigate it.
Dr. Dike Drummond, author and owner of the site TheHappyMD.com has made a practice around helping doctors fight burnout. He’s identified four archetypal psychological traps that doctors too often fall into that make them susceptible to physician burnout. He calls them “The Four Horsemen of the Physician Burnout Apocalypse.”
- The Workaholic
- The Superhero
- The Perfectionist
- The Lone Ranger
He attributes physicians’ tendency to become vulnerable to one or more of these Horsemen, in part, to a dysfunctional doctor training program that teaches young physicians through residency that working to exhaustion is normal, and that working as a perfectionist “Lone Ranger” is sustainable.
As many doctors and their families have learned, it is not.
Dr. Drummond points us to an established protocol for identifying and measuring physician burnout: The Maslach Burnout Inventory, which lays out three distinct stages to physician burnout: Emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced accomplishment.
Women tend to succumb to emotional exhaustion – particularly with the demands of motherhood and a husband on top of a demanding medical career. Men tend to slide into depersonalization and cynicism. “Cynicism is especially difficult for women to keep up very long before stage three kicks in,” advises Drummond.
Most of us are aware of the usual anger management techniques – Counting to ten, stopping to collect your thoughts, taking a walk around the building, etc. It’s more difficult to catch oneself in the act of blaming patients or staff unjustly, or falling into the trap of excessive cynicism and negativity that leads to reduced effectiveness as a doctor and reduced happiness as a human being.
Novant Health developed a Leadership Development Program for its physicians and management that help them with self-awareness and identifying negative thought patterns, feelings and behaviors. More than 500 physicians have gone through the program since 2013, and participants scored more than 50 percent better on surveys measuring personal fulfillment, positive attitudes and alignment with the company’s mission, according to Tom Jenike, MD, the Chief Human Experience Officer and senior vice president at Novant Health.
The Novant program isn’t purely medical: their leadership development program also incorporates executive coaching to help physicians with management and executive skills they don’t always teach in medical school, such as time management, delegation, communication skills with staff, and the like. Sometimes just learning how to say “no” to excessive commitments, or release control of things a physician struggling with a “Superman” complex has trouble releasing, can make a world of difference in reducing stress levels.
So a good professional development program or other cognitive intervention technique can help to meaningfully fight burnout. Not every health care organization has one as fully developed as Novant’s. And those in private practice will have to put their own program together themselves, or with fellow doctors.
It’s not easy. But it can be done – and will likely pay dividends many years into the future.
About Doctor Disability Insurance
At Doctor Disability Insurance, we understand that you have had to make sacrifices to get to where you are. We are committed to helping you protect your most valuable asset: your ability to earn an income.
Doctor Disability Insurance, Inc. is an innovative, one-stop service that makes disability insurance shopping quick, affordable, and easy to understand. Physicians save time and money by comparing plans and prices from multiple insurance companies. The site provides free quotes from leading names in the disability insurance industry along with friendly and knowledgeable customer support. The best values in the insurance industry are located in one place and are available any time doctors are ready, including late at night and on weekends.
Based in San Clemente, California, President and CEO Charles Krugh is a Certified Financial Planner with more than 15 years of experience working with people in the medical industry.
Call us toll free at 866-899-7318 to speak to one of our disability insurance professionals.