I’ll be honest, I recognized the signs of burnout in myself before I fried to a crisp. The emerging disengagement, frustration and disempowerment that I felt were not compatible with a healthy, sustainable work life. It was not in my organization’s agenda to support my well-being.
So I left.
I can’t say that I had a well-organized exit plan, but looking back, I did make some basic preparations. Over the years, I’ve figured out which of these plans were critical to my success, so I’m sharing them with you.
If you’re experiencing burnout, then take some comfort in knowing that there is more knowledge and support out there for you than there was when I started experiencing symptoms.
I’m optimistic that burnout is finally starting to be accepted as a crisis demanding immediate attention. While as recently as five years ago, few people viewed burnout in medicine as a critical issue. Today it’s a subject of research, seminars, and wellness programs around the country.
What’s leading to the recent rise in burnout in the medical field? A 2021 Medscape burnout report revealed that too much time spent on administrative tasks, spending too many hours at work, and lack of respect from employers and colleagues are among the top concerns. What can you relate to?
If you are feeling crispy around the edges, you aren’t alone. But, knowing that you aren’t alone might not be enough. Feeling overwhelmed, detached, and ineffective are not sustainable, no matter how many other people are experiencing it.
You have options. You really do. You can get unstuck, get support around your burnout, and start on a pathway towards a fulfilling sustainable career. Once you can pinpoint the source of burnout for you, you can begin exploring those options.
Are wondering, “So, I’m experiencing burnout, now what?” Managing burnout is not just about taking a yoga classes, meditation, and attending your organization’s mandatory wellness workshop. While these resources can be an important part of your burnout management plan, a more comprehensive approach is often beneficial.
Here are a few things to get you started.
Do a resource inventory
Lack of resources keep many physicians in work situations that are detrimental to their physical and emotional wellbeing. Resources can be anything from money, time, and energy to social support and information.
First, realize that managing burnout can take many forms. By the time you finally decide that your burnout is so severe that you’re ready to get help, you might be thinking, “I’m done with medicine.” While for some that’s a path, but it’s not the only path.
Figuring out your best course forward begins with doing an inventory of your resources. Your resources will support the success of any changes you decide to make.
Finances typically top the resource ladder. If you want to change your job or the number of hours that you’re working, how well does your current financial picture support your changes? Maybe you can’t support leaving work all together. Are reduced hours an option?
If you need to maintain your current income, can you find a better position elsewhere? If not, how can you modify and optimize your current work environment? Some options include adjusting the amount of time spent seeing patients or additional administrative time. You’ll have to consider what’s feasible in your individual situation given the policies of your work setting.
Your resources will support the success of any changes you decide to make.
Consider your social support. Who can you talk to as you’re going through the challenges that change and transition often bring? Is your partner or spouse supportive of you making a change? Are there supportive peers at work who you can trust as you’re considering your options?
What are your work-related resources? Does your organization have formal wellness programs in place? If not, is there financial support for creating an individualized wellness program? Are there supportive administrators open to exploring systemic changes that could benefit the entire organization?
Understanding your resources allows you to move forward to confidently design and sustain your burnout management plan.
Look for the helpers
A 2020 Medscape burnout report found that nearly 2/3 of physicians experiencing burnout don’t seek help. Unaddressed burnout places physicians at increased risk for serious issues such as depression and anxiety and increases risk for suicide. It can contribute to problems with your physical health as well as conflicts with loved ones.
Mr. Rogers shared a message that he learned from his mother as a little boy, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
There are a lot of different types of helpers to support you. You might start by reaching out to informal support networks such as family and friends, trusted colleagues, spiritual leaders or mentors.
When you get help, you can gain insight and clarity into your distress. This knowledge can help you make decisions about how to move forward to live and work with greater physical, mental and emotional well-being.
You might also want to tackle burnout with a professional. Many coaches and therapists specialize in supporting physicians and other professionals who are experiencing burnout.
Professionals can help you clearly understand your symptoms and how they’re impacting your life. You can begin to create an action plan to build a life that supports mental and physical well-being.
Explore your options
If you are lucky enough to practice in a supportive and progressive work environment, you might have access to a wellness program.
Some programs are more comprehensive than others. “Wellness” offerings run the gamut from simply offering a subsidized gym membership to access to seminars, coaches, and therapists. Make sure that you able to seek this help in a safe, confidential setting.
Some organizations, allow modifications of your workday and workflow. Such programs may offer flexible scheduling, part-time opportunities and paid administrative time. Successful programs are able to create a work culture that prioritizes and values physician well-being. They understand that a well physician is better for the organization than a physician who is over-whelmed and burned out.
If you’re part of a work environment that doesn’t offer any wellness support, then you will need to seek this privately. Fortunately, there are a growing number of professionals who specialize in supporting physicians and can help you build an individualized roadmap to wellness.
So, you have the first steps for your burnout management plan. You have options. Most of us have some limitations to how we can move forward, but few of us have to remain stuck in an unsustainable or harmful situation.
What are the first 3 steps in your burnout treatment plan?