More often, it seems that hospitals and CME providers are offering resiliency training courses to doctors and other healthcare professionals as a fix for the increasing tide of burnout. In a study conducted by Medscape, the percentage of doctors reporting burnout increased 5% from the previous year. Some hospitals and healthcare systems are even mandating resiliency training. The assumption is that if you make doctors more resilient, they will be less burnt out.
However, what they fail to realize is that our whole education and training was a training in resiliency. If you weren’t resilient, you didn’t make it. What other profession makes you live in dorm-style rooms until your mid to late 20s, stay in the hospital for days at a time, often miss meals because you were taking care of a dying patient in the ED and weren’t able to make it to the cafeteria before it closed, and bore the wrath of certain attendings when things went wrong? Then, when you graduate, you are responsible for everything that happens, even if someone else made a mistake. Resiliency training also does not talk about the grueling hours, dealing with the grief of family members of patients who died, and trying to live in the real world at the same time.
Furthermore, these courses fail to realize that doctors are burnt out because the system we are working in is dysfunctional, not because we’re weak. Often, when we decide the best diagnostic or treatment approach for the patient, the insurance company won’t cover it, leading to appeals and frustrated patients, who often blame us when a test or medication isn’t covered. It’s also sometimes difficult to find given specialists for patients with certain insurances.
After going through all that, it would make sense that we would get paid easily, right? But it is often a series of jumping through hoops to get paid for work we did and sometimes we are forced to write it off. These are only a few of the ways in which the system is failing us.
It is highly unlikely that the healthcare system will be fixed anytime soon. Forcing us to take more resiliency courses will do nothing to help us deal with these problems.
How can we address burnout in ourselves?
- Recognize it for what it is. You’re not drained because you’re weak. If you were, you wouldn’t have made it this far. You’re drained because you went through countless years of education and training and the system is not allowing you to practice what you know is right.
- Learn to say no. Every committee wants doctors on it. Is your presence there really going to change anything or is it just a time drain? If you are just there because of the MD/DO after your name, your time may be better spent elsewhere.
- Take sick days and vacation time. As doctors, we learned to work when we’re sick or exhausted. COVID-19 changed things, but I know many doctors who were infected with the virus and switched to telemedicine until their isolation period ended. We need to take better care of ourselves. No one else is going to do it for us.
- Find enjoyment outside of our careers. I was a doctor for many years before I could answer the question of what I like to do for fun. Before that, it was just work and raising kids. We need something that takes our minds off medicine, whether it’s a new hobby or just playing random rounds of Candy Crush in our downtime.
- Stop taking work home. As a doctor in private practice, I struggle with this one. If it’s not finishing my charts at home, it’s going through the EHR looking for problems. I do know that the days I leave it all at the office are much more relaxed days.
- Consider career options. If your administrators are making your life miserable, look at other options. If you’re in private practice and struggling to make it, maybe it’s time to join up with others. In medicine, there are many practice models and career options available. Even if you don’t think you’ll change, it’s worth knowing what’s available in case your current situation becomes unbearable.
- Run for office. Politicians are making many decisions these days regarding the healthcare system. We need more doctors in this arena who understand the true problems.
While physician burnout is increasing, suggesting it’s our fault for not being more resilient is just wrong. Until someone comes along and addresses the dysfunction in the system, we have to continue to push back against that dysfunction, but that is exhausting. We need to start taking better care of ourselves and not let the system crush us.