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.

I Can Fly And Miguel Is Teaching Me

Miguel was part of a team that broke the world record in skydiving sequential. 111 people, 3 points at skydive Chicago. Thank you Miguel for permission to use this photo.

Miguel was part of a team that broke the world record in skydiving sequential. 111 people, 3 points at skydive Chicago. Thank you Miguel for permission to use this photo.

How Does Peer Mentoring Work?

Peer Mentoring. We all do it. However, we don’t always notice that we’re doing it. That lack of awareness makes it less effective. When we’re aware of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, we can be much more effective. I think I can explain this best by way of an example.

Taking Flight

I already know how to fly. For me, this involves buying a ticket, showing up, and having a highly trained individual (a pilot) do it for me. My goal is to get to my destination safely and efficiently.

As a kid, learning to fly didn’t work out so well. I had unrealistic expectations, no equipment, and inadequate training & practice. I would flap my arms as hard as I could and jump from a tree, but I always ended up crash landing.

However, I have a surgeon friend (Miguel) that knows several ways to fly. While he might describe it otherwise, from my perspective Miguel is an expert. Miguel has clocked over 800 hours as a private pilot. He’s also jumped out of an airplane over 2400 times.

You’re probably thinking he must be crazy. My thought was “How cool!” While one of those used to be on my bucket list, my maturity has allowed me to understand that my knees, back, and neck are in no condition to tolerate that experience. Rather, my “how cool” thought comes from how much I enjoy learning about other surgeons’ fitness, mindfulness, or recharge activities. Miguel has been able to create longevity in his career by maintaining and expanding his skills inside and outside of the operating room.

Peer Mentoring

So how does this apply to peer mentoring?

Peer mentoring involves helping your peers be more aware. After talking with Miguel just once at length, he responded in an email:

“I have to thank you for your encouragement and your website. If your goal is to change surgeons’ lives, man I tell you,.. you are doing it!!”

Peer mentoring is not one-sided. Miguel is also mentoring me. His knowledge in areas that require hours and hours of training, significant planning, teamwork, checklists, and where the consequence of shortcuts can be catastrophic, is extremely valuable to me. It raises my awareness both inside and outside of the operating room.


SurgeonMasters creates peer-mentoring opportunities through Meetups, Webinars, Web-Conferences and more. Contact us to see what opportunities best fit your time, energy and budget. SurgeonMasters is a continuing medical education company focused on delivering medical education, strategies and techniques overlooked or underemphasized in traditional medical training that improve practice performance, surgeon wellness and ultimately, patient outcomes.