Once a health care professional has reached a chronic stage of burnout, lives may be at stake. But prevention and treatment are possible.
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In medicine, “burnout” is a psychological term that became popular in the 1970s to describe chronic exhaustion and decreased interest in work. The process of burnout occurs in 3 stages. Because prevention and treatment are possible, particularly in the earlier stages, it is important to recognize the stages. Stage 1 consists of milder signs and symptoms that are episodic. Stage 2 consists of longer-lasting symptoms that are more challenging to reverse. Stage 3 is severe burnout., when signs and symptoms have become more chronic and if left untreated can evolve into psychiatric and physical health disorders
Here are 6 strategies to prevent burnout. These will go a long way to combat a perfect storm of 3 dimensions of burnout (emotional exhaustion, detachment, and a feeling that nothing is being accomplished).
Evaluate a typical weekly schedule and reduce or eliminate any nonessential tasks. Prioritize the remaining tasks into doable lists. Early recognition of the burnout process and related risk factors is the most critical first step so that appropriate internal and external resources can be mobilized. Often there is self-denial of burnout, and physicians will try to cope with demands by working harder and longer, which can become a vicious circle to nowhere.
Complete a periodic assessment and realignment of goals, skills, and work passions. Psychiatrists are a particularly susceptible group because of the nature of their work and the populations they serve. Therapeutic work with highly distressed patients who may be traumatized, suicidal, homicidal, hostile, or unappreciative can leave clinicians feeling helpless, powerless, and depleted. This interactional process can be particularly problematic for psychiatrists who become isolated from peer supervision and/or mentorship contacts that help them process their feelings and actions.
It seems obvious, but get enough sleep and incorporate regular exercise into your schedule. Eat a balanced diet, and take care of your personal needs.
Build up a both professional and a personal support system. This can include dedicated family time, forming supervision groups for challenging patients, or meeting intermittently with mentors to discuss management and other perceived barriers to career satisfaction. Professional organizations can help identify and treat burnout among their clinician members. They can help establish clearly defined role and job characteristics, help build interpersonal relationships, and improve work environment and morale.
Cultivate an ability to self-reflect. Pause to attend to personal needs. Use the time to realign goals and expectations. Exhaustion is often easier to treat than depersonalization and a sense of ineffectiveness. Taken together, these suggested approaches will help to prevent and treat burnout
For more information, see Burnout: Strategies to Prevent and Overcome a Common-and Dangerous-Problem, by Eva Szigethy, MD, PhD, on which this slideshow was based