SCGhealth Blog

Know the Signs of Physician Burnout

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

By Audrey Landers

During Mental Health month it’s important to think not only of your patients but also yourself. According to Medscape’s 2018 National Physician Burnout & Depression Report, as many as 42% of physicians feel that they are burned out. So often articles on this subject will focus on how burnout affects patient care and practice revenue, anything but the one person it affects the most: the physician.

No one wants to admit that they are under too much stress, physicians especially are often nervous about seeking help because they are afraid that it may reflect poorly on their ability to provide for patients. Because of this, it’s not uncommon for physician burnout to become worse over time. If ignored, physician burnout can be fatal. In fact, the average physician will lose eight colleagues to suicide during their career.

High occurrences of burnout have been recorded in physicians since the 1800s and it’s pretty clear why: Between the grueling hours and stress filled working environments, many physicians don’t have the opportunity to put their work behind them even for a moment.

What is Physician Burnout?
Physician burnout, sometimes called career fatigue, is exhaustion that is caused by extreme prolonged stress. It can penetrate every part of your life, causing physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. It can cause a physician to become depressed and lose all sense of personal accomplishment as well as make it difficult to focus on work.

Recognizing Burnout
Knowing that you are burnt out and need help is the first step. Take the time this month, and every month, to recognize the signs of burnout:

You feel that you are not as engaged with your peers as you once were.
While not many physicians will admit they aren’t as engaged with patients, in Medscape’s survey 42% of physicians with some form of depression acknowledged that they are less engaged with staff and colleagues. You may miss details of what they say, or respond late. You may also be more irritable around them and get frustrated more easily when they make mistakes. 

You don’t have time for yourself
On average, physicians work nearly 60 hours a week, a number that most Americans would find completely unacceptable in the long-term. Once you factor in things like average daily commute (one hour) average time spend cleaning and cooking each day (two hours) and eight hours for sleep, there’s only about four hours of free time left each day. And four hours might sound great until you get around to dividing them up between interactions with friends and family, obligations like pet care, and incidentals like being stuck on the highway an extra 30 minutes because of an accident a few miles down the road. You might begin to realize that you don’t actually have as much time for yourself as you thought.

You don’t have enough time for your patients
More than 50% of physicians agree that their work is often bogged down with bureaucratic tasks, regulations, and increased computerization of their workplace. These tasks don’t feel important when you have patients you need to see and every paper, every chart, and every button click only gets in the way of you doing your job.

You could describe yourself as depressed
This may seem obvious but that makes it no less true. Whether you feel you could be clinically depressed or only depressed in the colloquial sense, this feeling is a sign of burnout. Especially if you feel the depression is mainly caused by work and would go away if you were to enter another career.

If you feel that these signs describe you, you are not alone. Over half a million physicians in the US alone suffer from some form of burnout.

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