Beating Back Burnout in Five Steps

In a recent article published in, executive coach and author Bruce Roselle outlined some of the factors that can contribute to burnout, as well as 5 steps for beating burnout. In this article, I’d like to apply Bruce’s steps to prevent burnout to the medical profession and surgeons in particular.

Recognizing The Signs of Burnout

One of the toughest parts about burnout is recognizing the signs and symptoms when they arise. Bruce outlines four of the signs of burnout, listed below:

  1. Taking on the weight of total responsibility. Taking on too much at work is an express ticket to burnout. It’s great to take initiative and step up when you need to, but you also need to know when to say no.

  2. Being stuck in the moment with no time to plan ahead. When you’re overwhelmed it can feel like you don’t have time to plan ahead – only time enough to react to things as they happen to you.

  3. Reacting to others with frustration, anger. This is a common sign of burnout – especially when you typically react with calm understanding.

  4. Feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, confused, exhausted, and incompetent. These are the most common feelings among burned out surgeons. They can lead to a self-perpetuating cycle of burnout.

Beating Back Burnout

Recognizing burnout is half the battle. Once you’ve recognized these signs in yourself it’s time to take action to stop the burnout. Here are 5 tips for surgeons to beat back burnout when it strikes:

  1. Take the signs seriously. It can be easy to ignore the telltale signs of burnout and think that it couldn’t possibly happen to you.

  2. Build a support network. Talking through your experiences with like-minded surgeons can be hugely beneficial.

  3. Be good to your mind/body/spirit. Many doctors and surgeons are bad at practicing the good health that they preach. It’s essential to eat healthy and exercise regularly.

  4. Turn work over to others — let it go. Thought many surgeons think of themselves as superhuman, that’s simply not the case. You’re not superman and that’s OK.

  5. Establish realistic limits. You’ve got to recognize your physical, mental, and emotional limits, and learn when to say no so you don’t exceed those limits.

Building a Successful & Sustainable Practice

Looking for a system to put these tips into practice? SurgeonMasters offers educational tools, webinars, and meetups with like-minded surgeons in an effort to prevent surgeon burnout and help surgeons build better practices. If you’ve experienced the symptoms of burnout in your practice, let us know what strategies have worked for you to beat back burnout.