It's Not You, It's Me: Physician Burnout

At the beginning of my journey with my respirologist he went through a tragic experience; the sudden death of his mentor. It impacted not only his practice but our already (at that least at that time) strained the relationship. I was just coming off of a poor doctor/physician relationship. I was shocked at an appointment when he informed me that she had gone through a traumatic experience.

My doctor was burned out

I had heard at the clinic that a prominent physician had suddenly passed away, however, I wasn’t aware of the connection at that time. They mentioned to me that it had a profound impact on their lives and also their future. They were still distraught at our follow up appointment I had no idea what to do. I am not even sure that I recognized it as more than grief, that perhaps it was the culmination of a number of things. In particular, burnout.* They even commented to me that they had contemplated quitting medicine. I was in shock and awe, my heart sank, selfishly thinking that I would have to start over with yet another specialist. I could not figure out my place in the conversation, or these confessions in our doctor/patient relationship.

Ultimately, I had to get past knowing this information.  I chalked it up to desperate time, desperate measures. From what I understand, they ultimately took a leave of absence and people used the time to grieve, heal and come back refocused. I consider this an important part of our relationship, while we have never talked about that confession since there does seem to be an understanding between us.

Burnout happens

Burnout is becoming, more and more recognized as a condition with supports and programs being put in place to support physicians. This is happening in a number of systems from local health network to international specialty organizations through the development and ongoing work of task forces. I believe that it is important to note that burnout happens in a number of health professions and is not unique to just physicians. 1

Signs and symptoms of burnout include:2

  1. Exhaustion. Described as low physical and emotional energy levels.
  2. Depersonalization. This may also be described as  “compassion fatigue” They may not be emotionally available for patients or anyone else.
  3. Lack of efficacy. They may be filled with self-doubt about the meaning or quality of their work.

What you can do

If you encounter a physician (healthcare provider) who is burnt out, you may be wondering what you should do. This is tough as options may be limited. I don’t know that I have all the answers, however, I would recommend that you see them as a whole person. That being said if you feel uncomfortable with any of the care you are receiving, you will need to address those concerns. Either by having a conversation with them expressing your needs or seeking an alternate referral.

I think it would be difficult for the patient to “fix” the doctor, although as humans we are capable of expressing empathy and support. There is a call upon patient advocate groups to create awareness and education resources for patients about Burnout syndrome and what may be experienced.

Hopefully, as healthcare community, we will be able to create a community of caring around this issue and patients will be more aware and less impacted and healthcare providers with have symptoms to support them.

Have you encountered a healthcare provider experiencing *Burnout Syndrome? How did you handle the situation?

*Burnout syndrome (BOS) occurs in all types of health-care raise awareness of BOS, the Critical Care Societies Collaborative professionals and is especially common in individuals who care for critically ill patients. The development of BOS is related to an imbalance of personal characteristics of the employee and work-related issues or other organizational factors. BOS is associated with many deleterious consequences, including increased rates of job turnover, reduced patient satisfaction, and decreased quality of care. 1


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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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