Find Out If You Are Suffering from Stress or Job-Related Burnout

APRIL 03, 2016
Clark Gaither, MD
I remember the moment it happened. I came out of an exam room following a rather difficult patient encounter. The patient had multiple, complicated medical problems, a list of complaints, limited resources, and little motivation to change, and I had less than 10 minutes to deal with all of it.
I was feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted. Standing outside in the hallway were four of my office staff, each waiting to ask me a question. I heard the phone in my office begin to ring. Even before I picked up the phone I heard a clear and loud voice inside my head screaming, "I can't do this anymore."
The discipline of medicine is inherently difficult. There is a lot to know. Skill is required. The responsibilities are great. The ability to engender trust, demonstrate competency, and exude compassion are absolute necessities. An enormous amount of mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual energy is required for the job. All of this, and more, is needed to become "the good doctor."
Naturally, you would want or expect a physician to be on fire with passion and purpose for the practice of medicine, right? Tragically, this is not the case for the majority of physicians currently practicing within the US.
The house of medicine is on fire, not with passionate purpose, but with a majority of doctors who are burning out. The flames of passion for our profession have been replaced by the all-consuming fires of job-related burnout. We are in the midst of national medical emergency with physicians burning out.
What once began in slow motion is now rapidly accelerating. A recent study published by Shanafelt et al in the December 2015 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings documented a rise to 54.4% from 45.5% in the number of physicians reporting at least one symptom of burnout in the span of just three years, from 2011 to 2014.
I know firsthand how it feels to be burned out. It is a miserable feeling, almost one of complete helplessness and hopelessness. In 2009, I went to my practice partner and told him I had to change some things or I was going to have to leave the practice of medicine. I had hit all three hallmarks of burnout.
The hallmarks of job-related burnout have been succinctly described by Dr. Christina Maslach, as measured by the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI).

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