Doctors Should Look Beyond Standard Burnout-Prevention Protocols
By limiting one's exposure, doctors will suffer less “compassion fatigue” and end up being a more compassionate doctor.
Burnout happens. It can creep up on you when you least expect it. Take it from me, a self-confessed survivor of burnout. I was in fact so burned out, so crispy around the edges, that I could have starred in the movie sequel "Toast II: Beyond Burnout."
We doctors put a lot of passion into practicing medicine. A lot. All that passion can be draining.
We may think we're immune to the physical and mental collapse caused by so much overwork and stress.
After all, burnout is a condition that happens to other poor schleps, but not to us!
If you're thinking such a thought for even one second, you're giving yourself far too much credit. I don't care how much you believe you're doing all the right things to protect yourself from burnout, it can still happen to you.
I'm sure you already know the usual burnout-prevention protocols offered in self-help articles: schedule regular vacations, even if they're only mini-vacations or weekend getaways; try to leave your work at the office; find a hobby; turn off the “analytical doctor” part of your brain for a few hours every day; take up hang gliding or tai chi; exercise; eat more antioxidants.
These are well meant. But you know what? They may not work for you!
It's pure lunacy to listen to self-appointed burnout “experts” who may have little or no comprehension of your unique life circumstances. They will advise you to “seek better balance."
They'll explain how to shield yourself from the negative energy emanating from your most challenging patients. They'll suggest that you talk to your colleagues about what you're going through — that it helps to get perspective from others.
The only thing that works is limiting your exposure. Imagine that the time you spend in the clinic or hospital is equivalent to time exposed to ionizing radiation.
I'm not suggesting that you take a Geiger counter to work. What I am suggesting is that you get in and get out. Don't linger any longer than necessary. Just cut it. And make sure the margins are clean.