Membership & Fellowship: Rising from the Ashes: Three Ways to Combat Occupational Burnout

The heart of the medical community is in peril.

Talented caregivers who have dedicated their careers to the wellness of others are feeling immense pressure from an overbearing work culture. Mental and physical exhaustion runs rampant, contributing to issues like a suicide rate twice that of the normal population.

The problem is burnout, and here's how bad it's gotten:

  • Last year, physicians were 15 times more likely to experience burnout than employees in any other industry
  • Over half of physicians say they feel frequent or constant burnout
  • 73 percent of physicians wouldn't recommend their children follow the same career path

The struggle can be amplified even further among ob-gyns, who rank second in the list of medical specialties most likely to suffer burnout.

In this edition of the ACOG Member Insurance Program's work-life balance series, we'll look at three ways you can start rekindling your passion and fight against the chronic frustrations that prevent you from fully embracing your career.

Rediscover Your Purpose

Across all industries, one of the most devastating causes of burnout is doing work that clashes with your personal morals and values.

Physicians have a major advantage here, since making a tangible difference in the lives of others is what calls many to the profession. But with the constant demands ob-gyns face on a daily basis, it's easy to get perpetually distracted and lose sight of your work's larger purpose.

Shifting your mindset to focus on your role in making the world a better place can bring meaning to even the most difficult days. Don't think of yourself as an employee of a medical facility; instead, center your thoughts on your role as a healer who provides critical, life-changing help to the innocent. No matter how frustrating things may get, nothing can diminish the difference you make in the lives of your patients.

An effective way to keep this mindset front and center is recording the highlights of your workweek in a journal. Writing down specific examples of how you improved someone's medical condition is an effective way to stay connected with the inherent value of your career. And on days when you're feeling low, reading about past triumphs can provide a much-needed boost of motivation and mental clarity.

With so many elements of daily work life out of your control, there's still one thing you do have the power to change: your mind. Anchoring your thoughts to the long-term good you're causing can keep you strong throughout challenging moments.

Take Time for Yourself

When you work in a career where your undivided attention is in constant demand, trying to take time off can feel almost impossible. And if you've ever felt the magnetic pull trapping you at work despite needing some time away, you aren't alone: In 2016, American workers had over 660 million collectively unused vacation days.

Even worse? 206 million of those days were completely forfeited, unable to be rolled over into the next year. When the US Travel Association did the math, they discovered that the average worker is giving over $600 back to their employer in unused vacation time every year.

This is a dangerous trend, as time away from work benefits your mental and physical wellbeing. In fact, recent research suggests that vacation affects us on a molecular level, reducing stress and bolstering our immune system. Even just planning a trip can raise mental satisfaction, since anticipating something is an inherently pleasant state of mind.

Dedicating time and energy to your work obligations is important, but so is taking care of yourself. Break up the monotony of your routine with some time away from the office every few months, and pay attention to the mental difference it makes.

Don't be an Island

When work gets overwhelming, oftentimes the first activity to go is time spent with others. But cutting out face-to-face time with the important people in your life can have far-reaching consequences.

In fact, according to two recent meta-analyses conducted by Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad of Brigham Young University, increasing social connections can cut your risk of early mortality by 50 percent.

Making time for others doesn't have to be a huge commitment. Even something as simple as chatting with coworkers during breaks (instead of scrolling through your phone) can noticeably reduce feelings of apathy and isolation. And building relationships with coworkers also carries the added benefit of improving job satisfaction, which is a key element in fighting burnout.

If you're struggling to stay in touch with family or friends outside of work, try planning one social activity every two weeks. This is a manageable goal for most schedules, and having a firm timeframe can help keep us from putting off socializing indefinitely.

Burnout can make us feel like we have the weight of the world on our shoulders, but people aren't meant to face the challenges of life alone. Adding more human connections to your day is a proven way to help reinvigorate the spirit.

Turn the Tide

The systemic burnout of medical professionals is an issue too large for any one person to solve. While broad changes need to start at the top, you still have the power to improve your own situation in the meantime.

Don't let apathy and frustration own your workday. Use these three basic strategies to ignite a spark, letting you rekindle your passion from the ashes of occupational burnout.

 

CITATIONS

"Physician Burnout in America: A Roadmap for Restoring Joy and Purpose to Medicine." The Johnson Foundation's Wingspread Center, February 2016. PDF. 2 August 2017.

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Murphy, Brooke. "A burnout epidemic: 25 notes on physician burnout in the US." Becker's Hospital Review. 16 February 2017. Web. 2 August 2017.

Parks, Troy. "Report reveals severity of burnout by specialty." AMA Wire. 31 January 2017. Web. 2 August 2017.

Hendriksen, Ellen, Ph.D. "How to Recover From Job Stress and Burnout." Psychology Today. 10 November 2016. Web. 2 August 2017.

"Job burnout: How to spot it and take action." Mayo Clinic. 17 September 2015. Web. 2 August 2017.

Tsai, Antonius, MBA, Michelle H. Moniz, MD, MSc, Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAAP, and Tammy Chang, MD, MPH, MS. "Meaning and Purpose: Refocusing on the Why in Medical Education." NEJM Catalyst. University of Michigan, 1 February 2017. Web. 2 August 2017.

"Project: Time Off." U.S. Travel Association, 2017. Web. 2 August 2017.

"Systems biology research study reveals benefits of vacation, meditation." Science Daily. Mount Sinai Health System, 30 August 2016. Web. 2 August 2017.

Manneh, Elizabeth. "Massive Studies Find That Friends—Not Family—Are the Key to Happiness." Reader's Digest. 19 June 2017. Web. 2 August 2017.

"Burnout Prevention and Treatment." Helpguide.org. Harvard Health Publications, 16 July 2017. Web. 2 August 2017.

"Having Friends, Socializing as Important to Good Health as Diet, Exercise." Population Reference Bureau. 25 January 2017. Web. 2 August 2017.

Knapton, Sarah. "Loneliness is deadlier than obesity, study suggests." The Telegraph. 6 August 2017. Web. 7 August 2017.

The purpose of this article is to provide information, rather than advice or opinion. It is accurate to the best of the author’s knowledge as of the publication date. Accordingly, this article should not be viewed as a substitute for the guidance and recommendations of a retained professional. Any references to external websites are provided solely for convenience. The ACOG Member Insurance Program disclaims any responsibility with respect to such websites.

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
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