Burnout Prevention - What If?

What if I could tackle patients’ issues without feeling a drain on my energy?

What if I could restore the hope and passion for my career that I once had?

What if I could attack my day with a positive attitude rather than conflict and frustration?

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A recent article published on morningconsult.com entitled “Slowing Physician Burnout: Programs Provide Solutions to Reduce Stress” discussed the ongoing problem of burnout among physicians and how to tackle this issue. According to numerous studies, physicians experience burnout more often than professionals in other US industries. There are many issues that affect caretakers differently, and as a result, physician burnout is a complex issue that has no easy remedy.

Picturing Physician Burnout - What If?

When people outside of the medical community think about physician burnout, they often imagine surgeons constantly dealing with life or death situations and the toll that must take. While that is a factor, most surgeons rank it much lower on the list of causative factors. Burnout is more often caused by mundane factors that consume our time and energy, like addressing regulatory burdens, becoming bogged down in clerical tasks, and conflicts with patients on issues over which we have no direct control.

Symptoms of burnout like being easily frustrated, difficulty concentrating, and disengagement are impacting even the most resilient doctors. The Maslach Burnout Inventory (a psychological inventory that uses 22 questions) characterizes burnout as “a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced sense of personal accomplishment.” In other words, burnout is a measure of the frequency of these feelings on three subscales. There should be no shame in burnout or any of these subscales, as they are simply self-perceptions, thoughts, and feelings. While these subscales do correlate with some performance data, such as patient outcomes, decreased quality of care, and increased chance of medical errors, they are not synonymous with poor performance.

While emotional exhaustion is one of the subscales measured, physical, mental, and emotional wellness are interrelated. For example, symptoms can become physical, and physical wellness can lead to fewer emotional symptoms. Improved sleep hygiene can decrease burnout; burnout can lead to poor sleep.

Burnout Prevention Programs - What If? 

Burnout is an issue we are finally beginning to reckon with in the medical community. We still have a long way to go, but some medical schools are now recognizing the importance for training and support. Some institutions, like Stanford, have even created entire centers dedicated to preventing physician burnout and promoting wellness.  

These are important steps, but many argue that they ignore the underlying systemic issues that lead physicians to burnout in the first place. While I acknowledge system-wide changes are needed to control the burnout epidemic, these changes will take time. We should continue to push for change, while providing physicians with effective prevention and management strategies in the meantime. I like to think of it as a “dimmer” switch to adjust the room lights, and not an on/off switch. Many things can dial the switch to increase our energy, to attack our day with more positive attitude, and to restore our passion and hope for our career.

What If? - You Had The WellnessEdge™

Often, when we talk to surgeons, residents, and fellows, we hear that IF they have a wellness program at their hospital, it’s often ‘All Show, No Go.’ That’s why SurgeonMasters created the WellnessEdge™. Our program provides actionable, repeatable strategies and techniques that surgeons can utilize to navigate the inevitable bout with burnout and mitigate its effects at the most critical times. Surgeons that engage in the program dial the “brighter” switch to shine light on their health and well-being.

Contact us today to discuss bringing the WellnessEdge™ to your institution or practice. Or you can learn more here.

 

Sources:

Slowing Physician Burnout: Programs Provide Solutions To Reduce Stress

Maslach, C., Jackson, S. E., & Leiter, M. P. (1996). Maslach burnout inventory manual. Palo Alto, Calif. (577 College Ave., Palo Alto 94306: Consulting Psychologists Press.

A Novel Idea for Safety, Productivity and Less Stress

Sometimes the key to peak performance isn’t rooted in rigid discipline, trendy gadgets, or the latest app.

Sometimes the key to peak performance is a service or technology uniquely applied to a surgeon’s life, like the one my mentor, colleague, and fellow orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Richard Santore applied a few years ago.

His application? — Hire a Town Car service to drive him to and from work Monday through Friday.

Hire a Town Car?

OK—technically the idea isn’t Dr. Santore’s (he borrowed it from a few of his joint replacement friends in NYC and LA) but considering Dr. Santore is the one who brought it to my attention, I’m going to give him the credit.

Now, I wholeheartedly realize how pretentious this sounds.

Paying $900 per week for a car service, Jeff? Are you CRAZY?! You think THAT is a good idea?

But the truth is…it is a great idea for some surgeons.

Allow me to explain, as Richard explained to me...

Safety

In the day-to-day life of a surgeon, time is precious and every free minute sacred.

The more tasks you can take off your plate—tasks that really don’t need your attention or expertise—the more effectively you can focus on the things that do require your talents.

By outsourcing the responsibility of driving to a professional whose sole purpose is to get from Point A to Point B safely, Richard reduces the risks associated with commuting (speeding tickets, car accidents, sensory overload, and undue stress) to a minimum.

Stress

Driving to and from the office or hospital every day in heavy traffic isn’t a pleasure—it’s a pain.

A gauntlet of fast cars, untimed stop lights, honking horns, bicyclists, and pedestrians you must carefully avoid in order to get to the place where your actual skills as surgeon are put to use.

Instead of waking up every day to curse the impending commute, Richard smiles knowing he’ll be able to catch up on the news with a cup of coffee, take phone calls, check his email, and get valuable consulting work done while somebody else handles the driving.

Productivity

Since his one-way commute time is about 35 minutes, Richard spends 70 to 80 minutes in the car every day. With someone else handling the driving, there’s a lot he gets done in that time.

Besides, Richard has more consulting work to do than he can handle, and his hourly billing rate—$700—more than offsets the expense of the car—$85 including tax and gratuity for one-way to the hospital and then his office one mile away.

Imagine having a ‘really good stock broker’ who could take a $200 investment and give you $500 return daily—that’s what the car service is to Richard.  (His billed time $700 - $200 cost = net $500 or 250% return)

The car service isn’t an expense—it’s an income producing investment, with the car doubling as a WiFi-ready, mobile office.

And when the traffic is bad, he gets even MORE work done!

Expand Your Schedule

So, if you’re a surgeon looking for a creative way to expand your schedule, consider hiring a car service to handle your commute. Look at the operating expenses, cost savings, and planned revenue.

-Jeff

PS—Have your own creative way of freeing up time and getting more work done? Email me at jeff@jeffsmithmd.com to share your story.