As you’ve probably noticed, most of the information you’ll find within my blog pertains to patients. Whether I’m talking about how to handle the first trimester of pregnancy or spreading the word about fertility factors, I’m all about keeping my patients informed. As a reproductive endocrinologist, I’m proud to work closely with both my patients and other professionals in my field, which is why for this blog, I’m going to shift the focus to a topic that I feel very strongly about that impacts medical professionals of all types, all around the country: physician burnout. Below, I discuss some of the basics of physician burnout, and why this phenomenon is so important to be aware of.
What is Physician Burnout?
If you are a physician of any kind, you know how exhausting and draining your job can be. The healthcare environment is filled with extremely long work days, nearly impossible demands, and heavy emotional requirements. All of these stressors can lead to a loss of feeling of accomplishment and passion in a doctor’s work life, which makes burnout even more likely. Physician burnout has become an epidemic in the United States, but it is not a topic that is often discussed. When you went through medical school, did your professors take time to discuss stress management and burnout prevention? Probably not. Burnout is far more serious than just stress- it can have life-threatening consequences for both physicians and patients, from a lower quality of care and higher medical error rates to physician suicide.
What are the Causes of Physician Burnout?
You might think that physician burnout is simply caused by the overwhelming demands of the average medical profession. The causes of this issue are much more complex- burnout does not occur for one singular reason. A recent survey conducted by Forbes found that most physicians blame the healthcare system for their burnout, pointing to factors like outdated technology, excessive paperwork, and long hours. Other doctors feel that the failures and shortcomings of the healthcare system, which often lead to complications and stress for patients, contribute to their feelings of burnout and dissatisfaction.
These causes are absolutely likely, and definitely contribute to physician burnout in the United States, but there is an even greater root cause that I feel is the fastest path to burnout- loss of autonomy, power, and loss of professional purpose and meaning. Doctors do what they do because of a passion and desire to help people- most of us were drawn to our profession because we wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. Becoming a physician required sacrifices, and we’d hoped that all the work we put into our journey here would give us a sense of satisfaction and the ability to help each patient that we see. In reality, our days are often filled with rushed appointments, complicated billing issues, and frustration from patients when there is simply not enough time to truly connect with them. All of these issues, day after day, create the ideal breeding ground for burnout.
How Can Patient Advocacy be a Solution for Physician Burnout?
There is so much to say about physician burnout (far too much to fit into one blog post) so I’m covering the basics here, but one viable solution to burnout that I am extremely passionate about is patient advocacy. My path to becoming an advocate for my patients was gradual, but it’s something that has made all the difference in my career. I started by speaking out when insurance caused issues, fighting for patients when treatment was delayed, and answering questions on internet message boards in the 1990s. I realized how touching it was to connect with patients and the community this way, and I have since expanded this type of interaction to my social media presence. I started connecting with different advocacy groups (like Resolve and Fertility Within Reach), which connected me with other advocates and gave me a change of pace in my career, along with more learning experiences. There is so much more I could say about my experiences with patient advocacy, but for now, I’ll leave you with this: patient advocacy can help to combat physician burnout by giving doctors a renewed sense of passion, energizing your practice and staff in shared purpose and meaning, and boosting morale. You might not even realize how advocacy work can change your day to day feelings about your career once you try it for yourself.
This isn’t all I have to say about physician burnout and patient advocacy, but I wanted to start by providing some background and sharing my own experiences and ideas for a solution. Whether you are a medical professional with your own thoughts on this topic, or you are a patient seeking another type of guidance, I’d be happy to speak with you! Reach out to me and we can talk about whatever’s on your mind.