Confronting Burnout In Our Communities

An article published early this year in the New England Journal of Medicine titled, “To Care Is Human — Collectively Confronting the Clinician-Burnout Crisis” lays out an argument for why burnout is an industry-wide problem and proposes options to start addressing these system-level issues. We may be tired of hearing the word “Burnout” or prefer a different word. More likely, we are tired of not moving forward. In this article, I propose three steps we can take today to confront burnout in our communities and move the ball forward.

Confronting Burnout

What can we do to stop the progression of burnout in our industry? Progress begins with working together.

According to the article: “The problem is not lack of concern, disagreement about the severity or urgency of the crisis, or absence of will to act. Rather, there is a need to coordinate and synthesize the many ongoing efforts within the health care community and to generate momentum and collective action to accelerate progress.” There is no doubt we need to address burnout at the system level. WE can take steps together at a local level today to make changes immediately.


Steps We Can Take in Our Communities

Step 1 - Raise Awareness

We need to continue to raise awareness around burnout, its causes, the symptoms, and how it affects each of us.  One of the many misconceptions surrounding burnout is that you’re either burned out, or you’re not. That’s simply not true.  

Burnout operates on a wide spectrum and it affects each of us differently in similar situations and circumstances. That is what makes burnout so difficult to “diagnose” -  we can’t order a biopsy to find out if the symptoms are benign. The feelings associated with burnout can crop up at times when we least expect and manifest in behaviors we never thought possible.  

Simply being aware that burnout is fluid and presents itself in each of us differently is an important first step. Let’s continue to have important, intelligent conversations around burnout to raise our collective awareness.

Step 2 - Act

Raising awareness is only the first step and amounts to little more than cheap talk if we do not follow through. We must follow-up our talk with action.

Here are examples of three actions we can take starting tomorrow in our hospitals, institutions, and practices:

  • Peer-to-Peer Connection - Make connections with colleagues who are going through the same experiences you are. Sharing stories builds camaraderie and discussing solutions to similar problems can produce greater results with less stress and frustration. Find a group you trust and schedule regular meetings outside of the hospital to introduce a new environment.

  • Wellness Day - Incorporate a “Wellness Afternoon” or morning, or whole day! Give your resident, fellow, or colleagues an afternoon off at least once a month to see the doctor, dentist or go for that long bike ride they’ve been craving. This builds in time for self health and takes a major source of frustration off our plate, with relatively low cost to the hospital. If you think it will hurt productivity or the bottom line, the data argues that productivity actually increases. Very few physicians actually take personal or sick time off, and this contributes to burnout, unless we encourage “wellness” days rather than “sick” days.

  • Mindfulness Practices - Practice a form of mindfulness. Before you skewer this suggestion as just another lame meditation or yoga suggestion, hear me out. I encourage all of us to start looking at mindfulness with broader perspective. Mindfulness can be something as simple as a breathing technique before surgery, to something as elaborate as finding a creative outlet that improves active mindfulness. A great example is SurgeonMasters collaborator and orthopaedic surgeon, Jonathan Swindle, who described his love of car restoration as his creative outlet.

Step 3 - Support

The final step we must take is to truly support these activities at a leadership and institutional level. It’s not enough to simply offer encouragement or pay lip service to burnout prevention efforts. It is critical we devote the necessary resources to improving the health and well-being of our healthcare providers, and then provide support and encouragement. Let’s start working in our hospitals and communities at a grassroots levels to turn the tide on burnout.

SurgeonMasters delivers burnout prevention resources and wellness programs to educate, support, empower healthcare providers. Our signature program, WellnessEdge™, provides a strong foundation, including progressive strategies and forward-thinking action plans, to help surgeons thrive in their careers and personal lives. Contact the Team@SurgeonMasters for assistance starting a burnout prevention effort in your community.


Source: To Care Is Human — Collectively Confronting the Clinician-Burnout Crisis - The New England Journal of Medicine, Massachusetts Medical Society, Jan 25, 2018.