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    There’s Hope for Doctors Battling Burnout

    With more than half of all physicians experiencing at least one symptom of burnout, it’s clear that burnout is a serious issue. Physicians today labor under an enormous burden of stress. Perfectionism, excessive workload, and lack of support services within the workplace are a few of the factors contributing to this growing problem. Though physician burnout is starting to receive long-overdue attention, it may be years before research yields actionable recommendations for industry-wide change. What can doctors do in the meantime to stay emotionally afloat?

    Let’s start with diagnosis: How does burnout differ from ordinary stress?

    Burnout is characterized by:

    1. Physical and emotional exhaustion from which you cannot rebound in your non-working hours. Unlike the depletion caused by normal stress, the effects of burnout cannot be overcome with targeted downtime.
    2. Cynicism, alienation, and depersonalization regarding patients and their concerns. Habitual sarcasm about your patients is a giveaway sign.
    3. Reduced sense of accomplishment and meaning in your work. A common thought may be, “What’s the point? I’m not making a difference.”

    Christina Maslach, PhD, creator of the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), calls burnout “an erosion of the soul caused by a deterioration of one’s values, dignity, spirit, and will.”

    You may feel:

    • You have little control over your work.
    • You are not recognized or appreciated.
    • You cannot keep up with your workload.
    • Your life is not your own.

    Prevention is, of course, key. If you have not yet reached full-fledged burnout, there are steps you can take to turn things around. Stress-reducing practices such as mindfulness can help you gain resilience and perspective. Taking personal inventory—finding your joy—may help you reorient negative thinking. And learning effective leadership skills can help you cope with challenges you were never trained to address.

    Setting healthy boundaries is also critical, especially between your personal and professional life and between you and your patients. Doctors are not trained to set boundaries, and you should challenge your professional culture to establish work-life balance.

    What if these recommendations are too little, too late? Don’t lose hope. There are resources to help you. Don’t let shame or worries about confidentiality stop you from seeking support. Waiting will only exacerbate the problem. And you are by no means alone. Just talking about what you are going through with trusted colleagues and support professionals will do you a world of good.

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