Can You Relate to Any of These Causes For Burnout?

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When I speak with physicians who are experiencing burnout, they often blame themselves.

“What’s the matter with me that I can’t handle my job?  They say in dismay. “My colleagues aren’t complaining.  I feel like a wimp!”

And it goes without saying that this person is working way too many hours, is chronically stressed, and can’t remember his last vacation.

In my last post (click here) I wrote about the features of burnout and offered a 1-minute self-assessment test.

When I help physicians understand  their own causes for burnout, focusing on their circumstances, coping skills, and personality type, they often stop judging themselves and realize they have good reasons to feel like they are running on fumes.

So what causes burnout?  Why are 1 in 3 physicians experiencing burnout?  The answers to these questions are complex, but we can address some of the factors.

First, let’s start with a definition: Burnout is the experience of long-term exhaustion and a diminished sense of personal accomplishment.  One tends to feel depleted and cynical.

When asked what is causing their burnout, physicians commonly reply:

  • Having to see too many patients
  • Loss of control over decision-making
  • Excessive work hours – frequent call
  • Lack of personal and family time
  • Bureaucratic red tape
  • Mounds of paper work
  • Difficult patients
  • Dealing with life- threatening illness
  • Repetitious work – seeing the same conditions over and over
  • Declining reimbursements
  • Risk of malpractice

Dr. Wayne Sotile, author of The Resilient Physician, emphasizes that today’s increased demands on doctors, with the concomitant loss of control, is a significant factor for the rise in stress and burnout.

Another contributing factor to the physician’s risk for burnout is the same thing that tends to make them excel at what they do – yes, you guessed it:

The Type A Perfectionist Personality Type

Features of this personality type, which is often rewarded and cultivated in the medical profession include:

  • Type A Over-Achiever
  • Perfectionistic/Obsessive-Compulsive Traits
  • Minimize personal needs
  • Inability to set limits and say “No”
  • Reluctance to delegate tasks
  • Difficulty maintaining  work-life balance

Do you see some of these qualities in yourself?  Most of us will – and the point is not to jump in the nearest phone booth  (are there any left?) and do a complete personality change.  The first step would be to pay attention to what is causing you stress that can be changed –even if it is only by degrees at first.

In the 3rd post of this series, I will offer suggestions for preventing and reversing burnout.  Until then, are there any tasks you want to delegate?

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