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Five Signs of Physician Burnout


Nearly half of doctors say they've experienced burnout. If you find yourself in this unfortunate group the first step is to take some time off.

These days, no matter what medical publication you're reading, you're likely to run into the same word over and over: burnout. It's no secret that nearly half of doctors say they've experienced burnout - and the rate is even higher for family medicine, emergency, and critical care physicians. (For more details check out this infographic.)

With so much coverage on the topic, it's surprising these numbers haven't started to drop. It's also hard not to wonder why, of all people, doctors should have such a hard time fixing what is basically a health problem.

Here's my theory. It's easy to see when someone else is dealing with burnout but it can be tough to see it in ourselves. A while back, I was chatting with a neurologist about her own bout with burnout. She said that it wasn't until she had started a new job that she finally realized what a rut she'd be stuck in at her last job.

We all know that you can't find a solution until you understand the problem, so here's another quick reminder of the signs of physician burnout.

1. You're tired all the time.

Exhaustion comes in various forms. Unfortunately for many medical specialties, a lack of sleep is just part of the job description. But don't let sleep deprivation mask the other types of exhaustion. If you're always feeling emotionally or mentally tired you may be burning out on your job.

2. You're acting like a jerk.

If you're experiencing more conflict at work or home than usual, take a step back and take a look at yourself. Are you quicker to get into an argument? Do you feel like your patience is always being tested? If you're not sure if you're becoming less pleasant to be around, ask someone who is willing to give you an honest answer.

3. You feel like you're stuck.

It's important to be able to see the next opportunity or milestone in your career. If you can't, it can be tough to stay engaged and motivated.

4. You're not as good at your job.

Burnout can have a huge impact on your job satisfaction and it also impacts your patients. If you find that you're giving less attention to them or you are not seeing the quality results you're used to, burnout may be the cause.

5. Your job is all you think about.

It's natural to think about your work and your patients, even when you're not in the office. But it's a problem if you aren't ever able to turn it off. If you're losing sleep, feeling disconnected from your personal relationships, or having trouble relaxing, it's probably time to take a minute to catch your breath.

If you're struggling with any of the symptoms of burnout, give yourself the same advice you'd offer to your patients. Prescribe yourself a little time off. Make a plan to eat better and exercise more. Give yourself permission to unplug from your devices and your worries about the office.

If that doesn't work, don't be afraid to shake things up a bit. Think about donating time at a free clinic, serving a medical mission, or trying a different setting through locum tenens assignments. It may be just what you need to get out of the rut you didn't realize you were in.

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