Physician burnout is a very real threat to the medical community. Often confused with stress, physician burnout will typically manifest as one or more of three symptoms – exhaustion (physical, emotional, and/or cognitive), depersonalization (a cold or callous attitude toward work and/or toward patients experienced as cynicism), and lack of a sense of efficacy (the inability to see positive value in being a physician). Because physician burnout manifests as stress-like symptoms, physicians and organizations have commonly and mistakenly believed that physician burnout is caused by internal forces occurring within the physician. This is not the case – physician burnout is caused by factors that exist within the physician’s workplace. As some physicians report, these are the factors that “pick” at them daily, the barriers and frustrations that they encounter when trying to care for their patients.
Physician Burnout Rates
Recent studies have shown that more than half of all physicians report at least one symptom of physician burnout. When rates of physician burnout are so high, when more than one out of every two physicians reports burnout symptoms, the problem isn’t the physician, it’s the care environment.
Many efforts to help physicians only treat the symptoms of physician burnout without treating the cause – a toxic work environment. When talented
physicians work in an environment where they feel they are unable to succeed or are unable find fulfillment in such environments, many burnout and leave the practice of medicine. When this happens patients, physicians, healthcare organizations, and the community at large all suffer.
Treating Physician Burnout
The best way to treat physician burnout is to implement a management system that actively works to create of positive work environment where physicians can succeed. When the success of an organization depends on the work of motivated, focused, engaged, and enthusiastic physicians, it’s in the fiscal and moral interests of each organization to ensure that cases of physician burnout are the exception, not the rule. This is accomplished by leaders implementing management strategies that place a high emphasis on respect for people. It’s important to make the distinction between implementation of a management system that empowers physicians to design the processes that deliver great patient care, rather than reliance on management techniques that are focused only on outcomes mandated by leadership. Failure to partner with and empower physicians will only result in more physician burnout.
What have you found that helps reduce physician burnout in your organization?
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