Many years of schooling and post-graduate training rarely prepare physicians to handle a toxic workplace environment. According to career coach Chelsea Turgeon, MD, a toxic work environment can make physicians loathe going to work, their love of medicine overshadowed by a seemingly unbearable workplace. This, in turn, can contribute to physician burnout.

Experts from the Cleveland Clinic note several factors that indicate a toxic work environment. For example, practices tied up in bureaucracy lack flexibility and can leave physicians feeling dissatisfied and frustrated. Likewise, so can an influx of mundane tasks like excessive EHR input. Alternatively, an immensely high number of patient visits per day can cause exhaustion and burnout. Some physicians are told that they must work late nights and weekends without compensation. These instances of dissatisfaction and exhaustion can result in fatigue, insomnia, and body aches. They also create a seemingly insurmountable work life imbalance.

Microaggression Toward Marginalized Groups

The Cleveland Clinic cites microaggressions against marginalized groups as another contributing factor to a toxic workplace, as well as an attitude of entitlement put forth by colleagues, executives, or administrators. Unhealthy workplaces offer limited opportunities for growth, causing physicians to feel undervalued. This, coupled with being overworked, contributes to an already toxic situation. An article in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons notes additional contributors toward workplace toxicity, like excessive certification or testing and pay below fair market value.

Unfortunately, many physicians have neither the luxury nor the desire to leave their practice, even when it is toxic. As such, Naveed Saleh, MD, MS, recommends that physicians come up with strategies to make work life more tolerable and sustainable in the long run.

Some strategies can help physicians resolve workplace issues like being overscheduled. Dr. Turgeon suggests setting limits and refusing to see unscheduled patients and advises physicians to refrain from checking work emails on days off. Doctors may also find relief in speaking with a supportive peer network or signing up for employee coaching programs. Dr. Turgeon also recommends that physicians negotiate extra pay for administrative tasks.

With all of that in mind, physicians should learn to recognize if their efforts don’t lea to improvements in the workplace. At that
point, it may be time to consider more drastic alternatives.