3 Tips for Surgeons to Promote Well-Being & Decrease Burnout


In a March 2017 Forbes article, Paula Davis-Laack (Founder of the David Laack Stress and Resilience Institute) offers a few tips for promoting well-being and decreasing burnout in the workplace. I’d like to examine these tips and see how they relate specifically to doctors and surgeons.

Don’t Ignore the Problem – Acknowledge & Track

All too often, doctors who exhibit the classic signs and symptoms of burnout simply ignore the issue and keep pressing on with their work. But ignoring these symptoms does nothing other than delay the inevitable. Left unchecked, the stressors that lead to burnout will build and get worse. It’s a much better practice to acknowledge these symptoms when they arise and begin to track them. Do these symptoms crop up at a certain time of day, or when engaging in a certain activity? Measuring symptoms will help you identify the root causes of your burnout and help you achieve greater well-being.

Seeking Out Resilience Resources

Resilience is a learned skill that can be incredibly effective at keeping burnout at bay. Using various tactics, resilient people can develop an increased mental strength and toughness that can significantly help reduce burnout. Surgeons with high resiliency are much more likely to keep going when less-resilient people have already given up.

Finding Your Work / Life Integration (Rhythm)

Paula calls this “work / life integration” but I like to use the phrase “work / life rhythm.” Paula’s point is that efforts to integrate them will create more successful careers and relationships. My point is that our career demands are more successfully integrated when our other life responsibilities are addressed with quality and focus. I consider myself in my rhythm when I move from one role or relationship to the next with focus and quality in that role or relationship. This requires ongoing efforts, and the ability to say no when necessary.

Putting These Tips into Practice

Now it’s time to put these tips into practice! If you have questions about how to do that, or want to connect with like-minded surgeons about their well-being tips and tricks, subscribe to SurgeonMasters! With webinars, podcasts, and local meetups, SurgeonMasters aims to connect like-minded surgeons with one another and share tips to develop thriving and sustainable lifestyle-friendly practices.

Source: https://www-forbes-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.forbes.com/sites/pauladavislaack/2017/03/06/organizational-strategies-that-promote-well-being-and-reduce-burnout/amp/

Doctors and Data


No one will argue the need for precise and accurate medical records. Doctors, surgeons, clinics, and hospitals need to be able to access patient data quickly and easily in order to effectively treat patients. However, the EHR process in many hospitals and clinics could use improvement. A recent article in Modern Medicine outlined four steps to improving EHR protocols. In this article, I’d like to go through each and offer my own insight as a practicing surgeon.

Cut Down on Doctors’ Administrative Tasks

Let doctors do what they do best – diagnose and treat patients. Most doctors and surgeons work crazy hours to meet patient needs. Adding hours upon hours of administrative tasks like data entry not only takes away from their time with patients – it can also lead to burnout. Rather than having physicians manually do data entry themselves, they should focus on dictation, which can then be vetted for accuracy. This can speed up the process and improve the overall experience for doctors and patients alike.

Structured vs. Unstructured Data

It’s essential to find a balance between structured data and unstructured data. Structured data is required for certain entries like demographics, vital signs, and medication lists. But many EHRs also require structured formatting far beyond what is required. Having a mix of structured and unstructured data will make work flows more efficient.

Get Rid of Interface Barriers

Interfaces allow EHRs to communicate and work with other systems. However, EHRs often charge hefty fees for these interfaces that then discourage doctors and clinics from utilizing these services. These interfaces should be cost effective and readily available to any system.

Editing & Transcription

Having physicians dictate patient notes is great, but that audio needs to be transcribed and edited to ensure full accuracy. It’s important to have an expert handle these services – whether you outsource them to a third-party transcription company, or handle them in-house.

If you’re looking for practical ways to put these tips into practice, checkout SurgeonMasters for educational tools, webinars, and meetups that offer excellent strategies for burnout prevention and surgeon wellness.

Source: http://medicaleconomics.modernmedicine.com/medical-economics/news/its-time-get-doctors-out-ehr-data-entry?page=0,2

My #MeTooMedicine Story - SurgeonMasters Guest Blog

Huge thanks to “Dr. She” for sharing her story. It takes a lot of courage to speak up about these issues. If you’re experiencing harassment of any kind in your work environment, I’d encourage you to seek help from a peer, a mentor, or a group like SurgeonMasters.

-Jeff Smith, MD

My guest writer “Dr. She” shares her story of ONE example of this all too common problem.


My #MeTooMedicine Story

This is my #metoo story that nearly ended my career in medicine. I still feel that coming forward with it will hurt me further. But how can I help encourage others to speak if I don't speak up myself?

It was the beginning of intern year. I started off on night float and when a few of the upper levels invited me out on my one Saturday night off, I jumped at the chance of celebrating. I brought a friend along with me. We started at a fellow resident's house and I recall the chief (#1) telling me about the "mess" of an intern they had last year who subsequently quit at the end of intern year. I didn't pay much mind to it at the time.

We proceeded to the nightclub and another chief (we will call him #2) who was married was dancing with my friend. My friend came up to me and said he was "more handsy" than she expected. I remember telling her that he is probably a little drunk and not to worry. I went to #1 chief and told him to maybe tell #2 that my friend was getting uncomfortable and joked "he can go home to his wife later." #1 got very serious with me and stated: "Are you jealous? I could make you feel more wanted. You're so hot it doesn't make sense you're going to be a surgeon."

I thought I had really been bonding with #1 so I took it as a joke, but still felt a bit uncomfortable so I stepped back and said "No, that's okay."

I went to walk away and he grabbed my arm, pulled me close and stated how he was "really going to enjoy working with me closely” and that I had an amazing figure he couldn't wait to get his hands on. I jumped back and told him "I think you've had too much to drink." Then he laughed and reminded me (with a wink) that he was the designated driver. He seemed back to normal so I empathized and ended up back on the dance floor with my co-intern and my friend. A bit shaken but also thinking "it's just joking, relax." We all joked and ended the night like nothing happened.

I told my friend that night and she was actually more worried than I was. “How much influence over you does he have?” she asked. I naively stated, “not much.”

A couple weeks later, I found out I was pregnant. It was unplanned. I was truly freaking out. I was debating abortion. Chief #1 made the schedules, so I went to him for advice on how this could possibly work. I told him I was pregnant and that I was worried this would be really bad in our small program. He seemed understanding, though he said he had no idea how it would work and that he thought I was a bright star. He encouraged abortion to save my career.

He said a few things jokingly about me and my partner’s sex life but it seemed more friend-like than anything. I felt I could trust him again. It was going to be okay...or so I thought. A few days later he asked in private what my decision was. I said I still didn't know, and that I was having a hard time choosing abortion. He got noticeably upset and stated "you can not fuck with my schedule." I started apologizing profusely. He stated "I really thought you were going to go far, you're the fucking star of the intern class and now you're going to fuck it up. This program won't let you finish if you stay knocked up. They will turn on you, you will be the new fuck up." I started crying. It was all of my fears, coming out of his mouth.

He then stated: "Well I guess if you fuck me, I can protect you. I like you." I stared at him in silence, trying to figure out if he was joking. He stared back. He then stated an attending (who was known to accidentally graze your breasts in the OR) was "always on his side" - as was chief #2. I stopped crying and got angry. I told him that what he was saying sounded like harassment and that I don't play that game.

He chuckled and said that he liked my fire. Then he smiled and said "don't you trust me? Stop it. Trust me. Are you really saying no? I'm on your side, come on. We're a good team!" I laughed back (a nervous laughter) and said thanks but no thanks." He stopped laughing and said "No one says no to me. I don't like it. The last one who tried is no longer here; she's a liar and anorexic. She needs help." He smiled and said "They always believe the dude. Trust me, I can make you or break you."

I suddenly remembered the intern that quit the year before. In that moment I realized I was in trouble. I walked away slowly and silently. And then the mental torture began. I was already scared my career was going to be over because of my pregnancy. I didn't know who to trust or if I could or should say anything. I didn't want to be any more of a "problem" than I knew I was going to be as the pregnant intern.

It was too much to handle all at once and I didn't know where to start. I couldn't focus at work. I was so scared. I was mentally falling apart and I didn't know where to turn to or who to trust. My career meant everything to me and all of a sudden I had two things that could end it at once. Sadly, I had already been down the road of assault in my youth and this was bringing it back like waves of torture.

Speaking up didn't seem like an option. No, I never spoke up. It didn't matter. He began a campaign of sorts with his sidekick #2 against me that lasted most of my intern year. It was easily under guise that I was a pregnant intern and a majority jumped right in...co interns annoyed at the call schedule, upper levels not exactly female friendly, and of course most of his co chiefs. He was right, this was not the program to be pregnant. When it came time to speak up, it was too late because he had already been vocal about me.

I went to my program director to quit rather suddenly one day, and he asked what was going on. I couldn't even answer. I was given a week to think it over and ultimately I didn't quit. I chose to stay and fight for myself and my career.

I could never speak of what instigated his obvious hatred of me. When I took extra call before my due date "it was to front load." When I had extra call after, it was because I had the baby. When I was sick, I had to pass out and end up admitted because I wasn't going to be one to complain. And he was only annoyed when nurses were calling him, telling him I looked ill to send me home. I had no ally. So I worked longer and harder than anyone. Proving myself every day. I was a damn good intern but I was fighting every day to just be that...not the pregnant girl or whatever other name he called me. It just turned into a hellish year of fighting for myself, my baby, and my career.

I finished my intern year. And I finished strong. But needless to say, I left my intern year program. Thankfully, I had a lot of "good reasons on paper" to leave but I knew I would never feel safe there. Between being a mother and the environment which he helped perpetuate against me...I wasn't sure I would ever be given a real chance. Without knowing the whole story, my chairman confided that he didn't think I should stay there either. He helped me secure a position at another program the following year.

I still suffer in silence. I find it hard to trust males in power, program directors, and even residents. My intern year left me weak, tired and unable to fight. I was broken, putting the pieces of me back together. It was the hardest year of my life.

To say males have power is an understatement and I was so very afraid for so long. But I have not backed down. I still have a lot of fear I'm working through but slowly my voice is coming back. I love medicine and I want to be that difference for young women in our field. I'm fighting so that I can be that loud voice for someone else. To be vocal for all women in medicine. Women need to be there for other women. And in the past year, my strength has returned and I still fight for my career. It's not over. I may have crawled into a cocoon of sorts but I will emerge in a blaze of fire. I am a Phoenix and this cathartic writing is simply the beginning.

- Dr. She



SurgeonMasters educates, supports and empowers surgeons to practice with less frustration and greater control as they evolve a satisfying, sustainable and thriving career. One of the biggest goals of everything we do at SurgeonMasters is to raise issues and explore solutions to complex challenges that many of us have in our practices and lives as surgeons. I have been aware of and learning about the issue of unconscious gender bias for years. Writing on this topic is very difficult for me, as I have little personal experience with the issue. More recently, the extent of my discomfort has increased as I have read even more disturbing accounts of sexual harassment. While I can’t write these stories, I can assist in the discussion that may lead to solutions. In order to find solutions, we have to better understand the problem.

The Two Sides of Burnout

Photo by karenfoleyphotography/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by karenfoleyphotography/iStock / Getty Images

We talk a lot about surgeon burnout – how to prevent and treat it. Burnout can be incredibly detrimental to a surgeon’s emotional health, as well as their ability to treat patients and provide the best possible care. But from one perspective, burnout is not a bad thing.

The Stigma of Burnout

The stigma of burnout is that only the weak experience symptoms. In reality, many of us feel the effects and there are a myriad of factors that contribute to burnout, including some which impact high performers.

Burnout also has two sides:

  1. The system abuser side

  2. The surgeon abused side

So the fact that our system burns out good surgeons (and might even burn out some of the best even faster) is NOT a good thing. 

However, many people look on in shock as an abused person returns to an abuser. How can they do that? Don't they understand that they are enabling the abuser? Couldn’t the abused make the choice not to allow the abuse to continue by:

  • Saying no?

  • Setting boundaries?

  • Walking away?

All of these actions would seem like rational, intelligent choices to most people.

Emotional exhaustion often results from the stress of caring for traumatized or suffering patients. It can also stem from processing empathy in unhealthy ways. Lack of fairness in, respect for, and control of one’s work are major contributors to depersonalization (cynicism). When a surgeon experiences those symptoms and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment (purpose) IN THAT AREA of their life, that surgeon is considered a victim of burnout. If they then move their energy into something that provides them more satisfaction, that would seem like a good thing for the surgeon!

The victim is choosing to no longer be a victim. The rational choices seem to be either stop the abuse or leave the abuser.

The Loss is to the System Abuser

So the loss is to the profession (the system abuser) and the many patients that a better-treated surgeon could have served. I repeat! The loss is to the system. The loss is to the abuser. Maybe we should stop, or at least figure out ways to lessen the abuse. Disease and injuries are hard enough to handle. Maybe the system could not pile on?

If you are dealing with burnout in your practice, SurgeonMasters has educational materials like web-conferences, podcasts, online CME webinars and other resources to help you attain a lifestyle friendly practice consistent with your goals.

Happy New Year! Looking Back While Keeping an Eye on the Future

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At the end of the year, it’s important to look back and reflect. To examine our growth and successes, as well as our challenges. This blog will act as a retrospective on 2017 – a look back on the work we’ve done. We’ll also take a look into the future to see what’s in store for 2018 and beyond!

Raising Awareness & Starting Conversations

One of our biggest goals in 2017 was raising awareness about the issues that impact our profession (stress, PTSD, burnout, depression, wellness, etc.).

We don’t all agree on how to address these issues. Initiating the conversations, improving our understanding through research, and offering effective strategies is the best place to start.

We need to raise awareness about these issues without attaching shame or blame. We must educate each other about the realities of being human and being a surgeon.


Looking to the Future – 2018 & Beyond!

Join us in 2018 as we continue the journey in raising awareness! Our patients deserve it and our well-being demands it.

  • The more we understand about what we can do to take care of ourselves the better.
  • The more we do to take care each other the better.
  • The more we stand up for our values and principles against any systems or processes that interfere with our wellness the better.


SurgeonMasters is excited about 2018!  If there’s a topic we need to cover or a subject you’re passionate about that can assist surgeons, the SurgeonMasters Team wants to know!    

Here’s to an awesome year in 2018!

- Jeff Smith and the Team at SurgeonMasters