The Emotional Baggage Follow Up Series: Strike a Match to Our Burnout

Burnout has only worsened over the pandemic… but how much worse?

burnout

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PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS

Given that I was a coeditor of the book, Combating Physician Burnout: A Guide for Psychiatrists, which got published right before the pandemic, I have tried to track how well we have been doing. Not well at all, it seems.

Looking back to 2022, several weekday columns told a sad story, both for other physicians and ourselves.

On February 24, 2022, the column was on “Our Own Deteriorating Mental Wellness.” We were 2 years into the pandemic. The annual Medscape Psychiatrist Lifestyle, Happiness, and Burnout Report suggested happiness outside of work was down to 57% for psychiatrists, and we were burning out at a more or less steady rate of 38%.1

On September 19, 2022, the column was “Medical Business as Usual is Increasingly Unhealthy.” It presented data from the American Psychiatric Association that nearly two thirds of responding physicians were burning out in 2021, almost double the rate from the prior year. President Biden promised increased funding to address this problem, which was also causing decreased quality of care, clinician turnover, increased costs, and medical errors. On NBC News last Wednesday evening, the rise in medical errors was featured.2

On the October 3 and October 18 columns, 2 myths about burnout were dispelled. It is not caused mainly by the number of hours worked or isolation. No, the major causative factor, perhaps 80% of the variance, is still the system which thwarts the ability of physicians to heal.

Earlier this week, on January 11, Healio/Psychiatry released a summary: “‘We’re not surprised’: Physician burnout continues into third year of pandemic.”3 The most recent study indicated that about two thirds of physician had at least 1 manifestation of burnout. Twenty percent were hoping to leave their practice in 2 years. Female physicians were at higher risk of burnout and encountering microaggressions.

Clearly, physician burnout was already hovering around 50% before the pandemic, but has even worsened since. The main culprit continues to be the system, with the pandemic adding a lack of preparation for the safety of physicians to the priority of costs and profits. Moreover, a rising rate of burnout has spread to other workplaces in society, as well as to parents.

For an earlier column in this follow up series, I wondered if psychiatrists would ever strike or be part of a more collective strike. If there was any time to think about that, it seems that now is the time. Given that the pandemic stress in medicine is lessening some and we know how harmful physician and nurse burnout is for us, let alone our patients, if we don’t soon strike the match to rekindle our professional fires, when will we?

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.

References

1. Medscape Psychiatrist Lifestyle, Happiness and Burnout Report 2022. Medscape. February 18, 2022. Accessed January 13, 2023. https://www.medscape.com/slideshow/2022-lifestyle-psychiatrist-6014788

2. Sullivan K. Nearly 1 in 4 U.S. hospitalized patients experience harmful events, study finds. NBC News. January 11, 2023. Accessed January 13, 2023. https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/nearly-1-4-us-hospital-patients-experience-harmful-event-study-finds-rcna65119

3. Downey K Jr. ‘We’re not surprised’: Physician burnout continues into third year of pandemic. Healio. January 11, 2023. Accessed January 13, 2023. https://www.healio.com/news/psychiatry/20230111/were-not-surprised-physician-burnout-continues-into-third-year-of-pandemic

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