By definition, burnout is a state of emotional and physical exhaustion due to work-related stressors such as staff difficulties, heavy patient load and other demanding situations. Burnout can lead to chronic fatigue, volatile emotions, chronic depression and susceptibility to ailments such as colds, fevers and headaches.
Research suggests that physicians with small practices and little back-up are particularly prone to burnout. While the "cure" requires a degree of self-discipline, most mental health professionals and career counselors insist that a few simple measures, applied consistently, can take care of the problem - preferably before it becomes too much to manage. The process starts with basic common sense.
- Take care of physical needs. This means getting adequate sleep, eating well, exercising and resting when ill. It's also important to go through regular screening for conditions inherent to various life stages (e.g. mammogram, prostate screenings).
- Pursue outside interests. Tempting though it may be to spend downtime catching up with professional reading - or sprawled in an easy chair watching television - avoid this form of inertia. Instead, take up a hobby or sports activity, preferably with friends and family. The idea is to completely forget about the practice, even for a couple hours.
- Communicate. When nerves are tight or emotions raging, share these feelings with someone trustworthy. Sometimes a confidante is the answer - a former mentor, medical school classmate or older physician, for instance. Persons of faith may prefer to turn to their pastor or rabbi.
- Consult a professional. Career and life coaches, attorneys and financial planners will help alleviate business stressors, but a mental help professional can be a valuable ally against depression or anxiety.
- Consider a physician support group. Professional facilitators typically run these highly-confidential groups, which are structured to help participants honestly share professional and personal matters. Keep in mind, though, that different dynamics make up individual groups, so sampling two or three may be necessary to find the right fit.
- Establish professional boundaries. Explore strategies for time and workload management. Hiring a P.A. or experienced nurse can help, as does capping patient enrollment.
- Go with the flow. Turbulent economic times can set anyone's teeth on edge. To this end, it's important to keep the situation in perspective, no matter its severity. Things will get better.