And providing such care is what attracted most physicians to the field in the first place. “There is no doubt that physicians feel overburdened by the regulatory environment that dictates medical practice,” said Dr. Teknos. “All of these factors take physicians away from what they really love—caring for patients—and it forces them to deal with bureaucracy, which definitely erodes morale.”
Explore This IssueNovember 2012
Being in control of one’s own time is a key factor in determining burnout levels, said Michael M. Johns, III, MD, associate professor of otolaryngology at Atlanta’s Emory University, director of the Emory Voice Center, and Dr. Ossoff’s co-author on the burnout studies on otolaryngology residents, academic chairs and faculty. In their research, they found that, for residents, the number of hours worked mattered in terms of higher burnout rates, while it didn’t matter for academic chairs, even though the number of hours worked was similar. “Chairs can decide if they want to work extra hours or not, while residents have to do the work they’re assigned,” Dr. Johns said.
How to Fix the Problem
Developing work-life balance is crucial for physicians who want to avoid burnout altogether or who want to fix their current high burnout levels or low morale.
“Learn how to balance your life, and have stress relievers,” said Dr. Ossoff. “I personally recommend having a stress outlet and, for me, it’s exercise.” Others may find balance in having date nights with their spouses or getting involved in community activities or something else that speaks to them besides being on the job. “You get involved, and you start to meet other people and develop friends outside of medicine,” he said.
Drawing boundaries is also important, he added. “Turn off the BlackBerry or the laptop when you are at your kids’ events or at home.” If you don’t, “you’re there, but are you mentally present?” he said.
It’s also important to identify burnout and low morale, both individually and on an institutional level. “Tools for management and self-assessment would be a valuable area for development,” said Dr. Johns. Mentoring programs can also be helpful for residents trying to reduce burnout, said Dr. Teknos.
For Dr. Wei, attending an Association of American Medical Colleges conference for mid-career professional women when she was 39 changed everything. “For the first time, I had time to think about what I hadn’t had time to think about and reflect on what was going on with my life,” she said. “I realized that I was on autopilot all of the time just to get through the demands of my professional and personal life, and I lost awareness for living in the moment. At the conference, I learned by listening and by talking to others, and thinking that whatever had been going on with me must change—and I was going to fix it. I came back on fire.”