5 tips to prevent physician burnout

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Physician burnout has become a very real and common phenomenon impacting nearly half of all physicians in practice and 75 percent of residents-in-training, according to an article by Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD, Sanders Clinician Scholar and associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Perinatal Psychiatry Program at the University of North Carolina Center for Women's Mood Disorders in Greensboro.

Factors that drive physician burnout tend to include the overall loss of control and autonomy, the demands of computer documentation of all patient encounters, the intensity of the workload and a decrease in face-to-face contact with patients.

The UNC School of Medicine launched the Taking Care of Our Own program to address the problem of physician burnout where physicians are able to go and ask for help in dealing with anxiety, depression, recent losses, or other emotional stressors that are a result of the demanding workload. Taking Care of Our Own offers educational programs about burnout and strategies for avoiding and addressing it.

Here are five tips for preventing and/or mitigating physician burnout as recommended by Dr. Meltzer-Brody and the Taking Care of Our Own program:

1. Engage in regular exercise. Physical exercise is proven to decrease stress and improve emotional stability. Finding time for exercise and self-care is vital to the survival in such a demanding field.

2. Spend time with friends and family. Support from and emotional connections with others are also instrumental to successful self-care. Spending time with loved ones and friends is an important remedy for burnt-out physicians who are withdrawing from social contact due to exhaustion. Implementing a regular schedule to connect with family and friends is a good way to get into a good, restorative habit.

3. Identify issues that are out of personal control. It is important for physicians to think through frustrations with the healthcare system and determine which issues are within their control and which are not. By identifying such items, it is easier to invest less time and energy into solving those issues beyond a physician's control so as to avoid feelings of helplessness.

4. Be aware of personal and physical limits. Physicians should try to make a regular effort to monitor energy level. A constantly down and exhausted physician must revitalize his or her energy by either taking some time off or increasing his or her efforts in self-care.

5. Look for warning signs of burnout and seek professional help when needed. Although asking for psychological help is stigmatized, ignoring warnings signs of physician burnout can lead to depression, substance abuse and dependence or other personal problems. Physicians should pay special attention to their mood. Increased alcohol consumption, increased interpersonal conflict and changes in appetite or sleep are some staple warning signs of burnout. Keeping the future in mind, it is critical that physicians are willing and open to asking for help.

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