Doctors Who Suffer from Burnout Are Just Wimps

JUNE 14, 2016
Clark Gaither, MD

"Doctors who suffer from burnout are just wimps."

I have seen and read comments such as this on various websites in response to articles about physicians who feel burned out. Other comments I have seen include: "What do doctors have to complain about? They should have known what they were getting themselves into. Suck it up and stop complaining."
 
I would agree with these statements if the majority of physicians had been complaining about burnout 25 years ago. However, they weren't. Something has changed since then to bring us to our current state of affairs.
 
The hallmarks of professional job-related burnout (JRB) are emotional exhaustion, depersonalization (cynicism), and a lack of a sense of personal accomplishment (inefficacy). The development of these feelings is the end of a process, and over time can break down the sturdiest among us.
 
Most people who enter the medical field have a heart of caring for others. They nurture a love for the art and science of medicine. They enjoy problem solving. The act of helping people by extending their life and relieving their pain and suffering gives these physicians deep satisfaction. Deep from within and throughout, physicians just want to take care of patients to the best of their ability and do what's in the patient's best interest.
 
The crux of the burnout issue
Increasingly, doctors are being removed from doing what they love and were trained to do, and are being made to perform tasks not of their choosing, for which they have received little or no preparation or training. In addition, many of these extraneous demands interfere with the doctor-patient relationship (or outright damage it). It some cases, the relationship can be destroyed.
 
Other than the traditional role of medical doctor, physicians nowadays are being forced to be savvy businessmen, gate-keepers, informatics technicians, insurance experts, ICD-10 coders, form fillers and filers, formulary masters, guideline followers, committee devotees, and contract specialists. If they do not assume these roles willingly, they can often find their practices, incomes, or themselves imperiled.
 
The chief major causes of provider burnout — Work Overload, Lack of Control, Insufficient Reward, Breakdown of Community, Absence of Fairness, and Conflicting Values — are in full force to varying degrees in doctor's offices all across the country. This has resulted in the prevailing physician burnout rate jumping to 55%, an increase of 10% just within the past three years.
 
If you place a fired-up, dedicated, passionate, and purpose-driven provider in a dysfunctional workplace you will burn them out every time. No matter how much rugged determination, intestinal fortitude, and bulldog tenacity they have, it won't matter in the end if the work environment is conducive to burnout.



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