The Paradox of Self-Help

June 30, 2020

During these challenging times, physicians have to be proactive in helping ourselves. And that starts now.

Dr Moffic talks about the coronavirus pandemic and the burnout epidemic and what those elements mean psychologically for clinicians.

The burnout journey goes back all the way to the 1970s, it only applied to the general public at the time. Around the year 2000, the burnout rate among physicians was virtually nil compared with the rest of the workplace and that is because we were more or less in control of what we were doing. But then for profit managed care came to be.

Burnout in the medical industry arose later on with the main symptoms being emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and feeling ineffective. Treatments were ineffective, mainly because it is a systems issue, with oppressive enterprises creating disengaged workers and clinicians and who experienced micro-trauma on a daily basis. Wellness is often discussed to help burnout, but it doesn't do the job because it insinuates the cause of the problem is on us.

During these challenging times, physicians have to be proactive in helping ourselves, especially now that the pandemic is upon us. And that starts now. There are support groups online for physicians if you just want to talk or get advice about how to maintain your mental health, and you can form your own support groups. That is hard principally because we are so busy with our work, but there are ways we can take care of our health. If you find ways to make your system work better, try to share it with other people. We have to do what we can make ourselves safe, make ourselves healthy.

We also need administrators who actually love us. Love is a strange word in medicine. When I received an administrative psychiatry award in 2016, that is what my lecture was about. On top of everything else, administrators need to love your staff, and medical administrators, love us in our work. That is the only way we can work together in a compassionate and caring way.

Dr Moffic is an editorial board member and regular contributor to Psychiatric Times. He was a tenured Professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin until he retired in 2012. Since then he has functioned as a private community psychiatrist providing pro bono services locally, nationally, and internationally. Currently, Dr Moffic is focused on four major advocacy initiatives: physician burnout, climate instability, Islamophobia, and Anti-Semitism. He is co-editor of Combating Physician Burnout: A Guide for Psychiatrists, with Sheila LoboPrabhu and Richard F. Summers.