Physician Burnout Is Prevalent, But Preventable - Part 2

Posted on Wed, Nov 02, 2016
Physician Burnout Is Prevalent, But Preventable - Part 2

This is Part 2 of a 2-part series.

By Ronald Tompkins, MD

When I attended EmCare’s Annual Leadership Conference, I heard several speakers discuss physician burnout, and while the conference covered a variety of topics, the sessions that addressed this topic stuck with me the most. I wanted to share what I learned, and some of my thoughts about burnout and resiliency.

It’s said that the ER doctor only controls about 10 percent of his day and is at the mercy of his surroundings the other 90 percent of the time. But we do control 10 percent, and we have to own that 10 percent. Control the ground under your feet and inch forward, adapting and being flexible and willing to learn. We have to learn resilience to prevent and treat burnout. As we get burned out, we get mean and stupid both at work and at home. This is very costly. Happiness generates a better work life – and a better home life.

We have what is often called a toxic work environment that negatively impacts our health to the degree of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. The resilient docs are those who embrace change and move forward. They surround themselves with work peers and family who show love and support. Look in the eyes of the nurses when you arrive at work or the eyes of your family at home. Are they glad to be at work with you or do they show agony and worry? Are your adaptive behaviors creating good or bad change? Help create an environment where it’s OK to show a range of emotions, but make sure to find humor and laugh.

Those who find happiness at work are the ones who surround themselves with quality collaborators and peers and show love and support for one another. You don’t always have to be right. None of us are. But you have to be willing to listen and love one another. Don’t just judge actions and results, but remember to judge intent also. Work life and home life is a long journey that has peaks and valleys. Most couples who stay committed through times of stress and struggle and stay together will generally respond years later that life is good. Work life is very similar. The work team is ever changing and we have to work through the valleys again. Forge trust and respect through trials. Character and commitment matters.

Is Your Work Site Toxic?

Four key questions to ask yourself to judge your work site are:

  1. Does my work match my values?
  2. Am I good at it?
  3. Do I like my peers?
  4. Do my peers, work family, and supervisors acknowledge my work and family and show respect and support?

Signs of burnout can be summed up into emotional exhaustion, depersonalization (numb emotions) and decreased sense of accomplishment.

11 Tips for Finding More Meaning in Your Life

What helps work/life burnout is finding MEANING to life. This can be different for each person, but examples are family, religion, hobbies, children and missions. Notice money is not one of the options.

Other proven strategies are:

  1. Find wonderment in old things. Try to find new ways to look at old problems. Be willing to adapt and embrace change.
  2. Rethink your life balance and take actions to change the ratio of work, time for family, time for self, and time for intimacy.
  3. Give compliments to your peers and to their families. The giver will be lifted up as well as the receiver.
  4. Give apologies. Stop all the unnecessary work arounds to avoid certain individuals.
  5. Find and write down three uplifts for every one hassle daily. This can be simple such as “I got a new recipe today.” Studies show this will change our attitudes very effectively in about six weeks.
  6. Find a place of serenity during the day for a few minutes. Take advantage of quiet times, laugh and let your mind rest.
  7. Find something to be inspired by.
  8. Find pride in what you do and who you are.
  9. Most importantly, find someone to love and who loves you back.
  10. Look for all the above and write them down.
  11. Be a hero. A hero creates a safe place for those we care about

I want to conclude this series by acknowledging all of our providers and the incredible work you do. That includes our nurses, unit clerks and other support staff. I have been in emergency medicine for more than 20 years and I am amazed at all that we are asked to do and we amazingly do it all.

Dr. Ronald Tompkins

Ronald Tompkins, MD, is the medical director of the emergency department at Parkridge Medical Center in Chattanooga, Tenn.


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