One of the front page articles this week in the StarTribune explored the subject of doctor burnout. Every job comes with stress; Medicine is not immune to stress and burnout is becoming a more recognized phenomenon. Many jobs have the pressure to perform, but many doctors try harder to push through the stress and daily duties. Recently, we began to realize we are no different than everyone else.
Medicine has for a long time been a very strenuous career. The academic requirements and training are very difficult. Most of us started our careers with residency training involving workweeks that exceeded 80 hours, and we continued working 50-60 hours each week after residency was complete. The time spent seeing patients is only a fraction of the time spent – many more hours involve paperwork, patient preparation, administrative tasks, and continuing education. Family and fun time become eclipsed by work requirements, and sleep is an afterthought.
Daily Doctor Stresses
Stress becomes a lifestyle. Seeing patients and being able to identify the correct diagnosis and treatment is always a challenge. Many physicians also perform complex procedures that could easily cause significant damage if something goes wrong, adding to the stress. Then, if patient is at all unhappy, we may have to deal with administrators questioning the encounter or the possibility of being sued.
Preventing stress and burnout in any profession is necessary. One may be busy, but to prevent burnout, one needs to take time out from work. Physicians need to do this just like everyone else. Some physicians take extended breaks from practice, taking months off at a time. They do charity work and get away from their normal practice. Others limit their work hours. Many try to find outside interests to focus on to reduce stress. No one goes to their graves saying that they wished they spent more time at work.
Work is only a small part of life. Maintaining outside interests is essential. Stress comes as part of the profession. Ways to handle the stress include maintaining good fitness and having outside interests that you enjoy. Often, the outside interests of a physician can be seen readily at their offices. A physician with no outside life besides medicine may be more likely to become burned out. Stress reduction for everyone is necessary. It is summer time and now is a time to be outside and enjoy the world.
Thomas Cohn, MD
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