As physicians, we all decided to help others. Those of us in Emergency Medicine decided to help others at their most ill, at the most traumatic moment in their lives, or at their wits end as far as where to seek answers. Sometimes we can help, and sometimes we cannot. Regardless of what their reason or our ability to meet their expectations, patients come to offload some of their burdens of life. Maybe they can no longer care for themselves because their sepsis has drained them of all their energy. Or their addiction to substances (despite the number of times you’ve counseled them on breaking their habit) has brought them back to us either for either intoxicant effects or the pangs of being without for too long.
Regardless, we can feel the burden and it manifests as burnout. Burnout is a syndrome exemplified by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and a sense of lack of accomplishment. It manifests in those whose careers aim at working with others. While stress is a normal part of life and work, when we cannot defuse the stress between shifts thereby allow it to build up will we be in danger of experiencing burnout. The syndrome can lead to us making clouded medical decisions which can have disastrous consequences.
Some studies suggest 1 of 3 physicians are experiencing burnout at any given time. The Medscape Physician Lifestyle Survey shows an increase of self-reported burnout from 39.8% in 2013 to 46% in 2015. Whether we don’t have enough time off between shifts, work too many shifts to pay off loans, or simply keep our feelings inside, it exists and knowledge of it is essential. Many of these habits perhaps are inculcated from medical pedagogy since day one of our education.
But there is a cure. Recognize it. In ourselves. In others. Talk about it. Talk to each other. Be there for one another. Recommend healthy coping strategies. Provide an ear. The National Academy of Medicine has validated tools for you to determine if you are burnt out.
As physicians, we have an obligation to patients. But as humans, we have an obligation to ourselves.