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.