Burnout is an increasing problem for the medical community. We’re facing a medical staffing crisis at the same time an increasing number of patients are seeking medical care, and that’s taking its toll on people. Physicians are working longer hours, seeing more patients, and taking worse care of themselves. It’s no wonder over 50% report they’re burned-out. Learning how to detect – or better yet prevent – physician burnout is a vital step in facing this crisis.
Get The Burnout Facts
The Medscape Oncology Lifestyle Report 2017 defines burnout “as a loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism, and a low sense of personal accomplishment.” They’ve been tracking burnout rates among physicians for several years now. In 2013 the overall burnout rate was 40%. Now it’s 51%. For oncologists, the burnout rate is 47%. That percentage is lower than average, but oncologists rank third highest in how severe their burnout is.
Recognize The Source Of The Problem
The top three causes oncologists give for burnout in the Medscape report are too many bureaucratic tasks, spending too many hours at work, and increasing computerization of practice. Those are closely followed by “feeling like just a cog in a wheel,” too low an income, maintaining certification requirements, compassion fatigue, insurance issues, and seeing too many patients in a day.
The increasing shortage of medical personnel contributes to some of these problems. More patients need medical care and there are fewer people to treat them. And so physicians are working longer and harder hours. But it’s just not healthy to miss sleep, meals, and breaks while working nonstop in a high-stress environment.
Destigmatize Asking For Help
Burnout is not uncommon. There shouldn’t be any shame in asking for help when you’re feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, cynical and/or depressed. But there’s still a cultural stigma against admitting you “can’t handle it”. Change won’t happen unless we can remove the stigma of asking for help and admit that burnout is a problem. This shift won’t happen overnight. But it can start with your medical practice making a commitment to support physicians’ mental health.
Treat The Root Cause …
Psychologists consider burnout “a state of chronic stress.” This stress leads to “physical and emotional exhaustion,” “cynicism and detachment,” and “feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.” While physical stress is a large part of burnout, there are also emotional and mental components.
Preventing burnout starts with targeting contributing factors such as too long of work hours and an excessive patient load. In addition to changes in the work environment, burnout prevention should include a strong support system. Such a system will encourage physical, emotional, and mental health.
… As Well As The Symptoms
In an ideal world, there would be plenty of physicians to go around and no one would feel the need to work overtime. But we’re clearly not living in an ideal world. An ASCO workforce study predicts that by 2020 medical and radiation oncology services will significantly outpace the availability. This will result in a shortage of 2,550 to 4,080 oncologists.
You need a way to supplement your medical team and give overworked physicians a break now. Hiring locums is one solution. You can use temporary oncology specialists to fill in while a regular team member is on vacation or to supplement your team during a particularly busy time.