For many doctors, our profession is a calling more than a job. We were called to it for many reasons, including helping others and saving lives. There is great joy in making a positive impact in the life of another person, whether it is restarting their heart during cardiac arrest or just being a shoulder to lean on when they are struggling through tough times.
Today, much of that joy gets lost in a myriad of other struggles, fighting insurance companies to get services and medications covered, trying to get paid our allowable fees for services rendered, complying with endless and useless regulations, and more. Often, I hear doctors say they would never recommend a medical career to their children.
Burnout among physicians is higher than ever, and most of it has nothing to do with patient care. Yes, we work long hours with little time off. But answering a call from the ER at 3 AM is what we expect to do. It is the outside forces that try to dictate how medicine should be practiced that wears us down. Every time an insurance company refuses to cover a diagnostic test or a medication a patient needs, it is another loss we bear, another weight hung on our backs to carry.
Symptoms you are suffering burnout:
• You hate going to work. You have to drag yourself out of bed and to work and then you can’t wait to leave again.
• You feel tired all the time and it starts to impact your productivity.
• You are irritable and impatient with others at work.
• You feel disillusioned about your job. You are no longer a healer helping save lives but rather a cog in machine of the system.
• You become unsatisfied with your achievements.
• Feeling underappreciated and alienated.
• Problems with sleep and physical symptoms such as nausea, back pain, headaches and many others.
• Low self-esteem
• Anxiety or depression
• Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs
• Problems focusing
• Avoiding social contact
Many doctors are experiencing some stage of burnout. This is not a good situation for patients either. But there is no one really suggesting an adequate repair to this. Rather, doctors are expected to keep going, business as usual, while more and more regulations are being required of them.
Has the joy of medicine been lost? No, it has been drowned out by the sea of systematization. While I may feel some degree of burnout sitting at my desk ticking check boxes, every time I enter an exam room and sit in front of a patient, I remember why I became a doctor. These patients have no one else. If I wasn’t here, they would be swept away in the waves of our dysfunctional system.
When they thank me for saving their life or being there for them, I am gifted a reminder of my calling, of my mission. I am not a doctor to serve a system or a government, but rather my patients. And while I strive against the raging waters, the joy is there. It just becomes harder to find. Yes, we need to keep fighting the system in order to give our patients the best medical care. But we must remember to take care of ourselves along the way. We must dig down and find that joy because otherwise, our calling is futile.