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There are many posts on my website dealing with Physician Burnout but I still feel that it is not enough to convey the magnitude of the problem.
I am particularly fond of authors who contact me for a potential guest post submission on the topic of Physician Burnout.
Although not a physician herself, Gayle Morris hung up her stethoscope as a certified nurse practitioner after 2 decades and was a firsthand witness to the effects of burnout on the medical worker and now shares her views below.
Physician burnout is one of the most significant problems facing the healthcare industry, and COVID-19 has drastically increased the likelihood that physicians will experience burnout symptoms.
Many doctors feel so overwhelmed that quitting seems like their only option.
This was a growing problem even before COVID-19 took over the headlines, with a pre-COVID study indicating that a whopping 67% of physicians experienced burnout at some point.
But the healthcare industry cannot afford to lose so many doctors.
Physician burnout already costs the industry $4.6 billion every year.
Doctors who leave their profession then create even more work and stress for doctors in their community.
This is especially worrisome for already underserved populations, especially at a time when COVID-19 has made hospital overcrowding a major concern.
How can we spot physician burnout? And even more importantly, how can we help doctors want to remain in healthcare?
Symptoms of Physician Burnout.
Most physicians experiencing burnout have some combination of the following symptoms.
- This is a mental condition characterized by thoughts and feelings that feel unreal.
- People who have depersonalization describe living in a dreamlike state.
- Emotional exhaustion, which makes a physician feel that they can no longer empathize with their patients.
- Feelings of low personal accomplishment.
- Physicians may report that they feel that their work does not matter, or that they are unable to make a difference in their patient’s lives.
Unsurprisingly, physicians suffering from burnout also experience higher rates of depression, as well as increased rates of substance abuse, and an increased likelihood of car accidents.
When physicians stop having the time and space to take care of themselves, their ability to care for their patients suffers as well.
As one would expect, this corresponds with an increase in medical errors, both those that are self-reported by physicians as well as those revealed by medical malpractice lawsuits.
Studies have shown a correlation between physician burnout and a decrease in patient satisfaction.
Why Do Physicians Suffer from Burnout?
In 2009, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act created new requirements for physicians to enter treatment information into an electronic health record system.
These records have their advantages, but they mean that physicians now have to spend a significant portion of their day performing data entry tasks, rather than spending time with patients and using their medical licenses.
Both younger and older physicians report that this part of their job considerably increases their stress at work.
The regulations around these new requirements can be confusing, and their utility might not always be obvious.
Also, this increase in workload did not come with an increase in pay, or any other tangible improvement to physicians’ quality of life.
But it’s not just about the lack of pay for extra work.
Most doctors take on years of study and mountains of debt because of a genuine passion for helping patients.
This is underlined by the fact that studies show that a raise does not provide enough incentive to overcome these drawbacks.
Physicians have lives outside of work, and many find the needs of their family difficult to balance with their increasingly demanding professions.
COVID-19 significantly increased the healthcare worker’s workload, as well as their overall stress.
A survey of healthcare workers in China from March of this year revealed that over 70% were experiencing distress, with over half reporting symptoms of depression, and 34% reported experiencing insomnia.
Because of the shortage of protective gear, many doctors have been forced to perform tasks in a manner that goes against their training and expertise.
Also, healthcare workers have to worry about disinfecting themselves before returning home to their families — another major source of stress.
Make no mistake: Electronic health records can benefit medical providers, and COVID-19 necessitates that healthcare workers take extra precautions.
But neither of these facts change the reality that physician burnout is on the rise, and that physicians experiencing symptoms should consider a major change, for their own sake as well as their patient’s.
Solutions for Medical Professionals Experiencing Burnout.
After years of education, it’s hard to let go of the idea of practicing medicine.
On this front, there is some good news: Doctors don’t have to quit medicine in order to dramatically improve their quality of life.
They may consider cutting back to a part-time schedule, although this also comes with a pay cut.
There are alternate career paths that offer physicians the chance to use their hard-earned expertise and earn a solid paycheck, without the drawbacks of many careers in medicine.
For instance, wound care offers physicians the chance to keep a competitive salary and a regular, 9-to-5 schedule.
Best of all, wound care allows doctors to reconnect with patients in a way that many overtired physicians feel that they have lost.
Patients with chronic wounds require a high degree of monitoring, without the stress of a busy hospital or an emergency procedure.
Wound care is also a viable option for physicians with a wide range of backgrounds, including internal medicine, general surgery, vascular surgery, plastic surgery, emergency medicine, and family medicine.
Some wound care clinics only require physicians to have completed two years of their residency.
There’s far more variety than working exclusively with patients.
Doctors can also teach continuing education for medical staff at skilled nursing facilities.
In the wake of COVID-19, the demand for physicians willing to provide their services remotely has ballooned.
Physicians looking to take a break from the demands of a hospital should consider a switch to providing telehealth services and healthcare consulting.
Technologically inclined physicians may want to explore the world of medical device development.
No matter what their specialty or their struggles with their current line of work, physicians experiencing burnout should consider alternatives before leaving the healthcare industry.
Their time and skills are valuable in more ways than they may realize, especially in the rapidly changing landscape of 21st century medical care.
Gayle Morris is a freelance writer that’s been writing on health and wellness for over ten years. She spent over 20 years as a certified nurse and nurse practitioner before hanging up her stethoscope and picking up the pen.
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