Four Reasons Why Physicians Should Do Volunteer Work

July 13, 2016

Helping others outside the work environment can often invigorate overworked physicians. Volunteering is a perfect way to do that.

Physician burnout keeps getting worse. And, the major causes of burnout - too much red tape, too much time at work, too much time dealing with electronic health records - aren't going away any time soon. So how are physicians supposed to fight it?

One solution is to take more vacation. Industry surveys find that physicians who are not feeling burned out take vacation every year. But that's easier said than done. Taking vacation often means working harder before you leave, losing out on salary while you're away, and then playing catch-up when you get back.

But there's something else you can do to fight burnout: Volunteer work. It seems counter-intuitive, fighting burnout by doing more work. But according to experts, doctors who spend time volunteering are able to avoid burnout.

If volunteering isn't a regular part of your life, here are a few reasons to take some time to give back.

1. It's a great teambuilding activity.

Most employers realize that taking time to connect with their team outside of work results in a much better atmosphere inside the office. Barbecues and bowling outings are great, but you'll find that the occasional service project allows the team to enjoy each other's company and give back at the same time. One of my favorite teambuilding activities was when we split up into groups to do random acts of kindness in the community. Each group received $150 to help in any way they wanted. Some headed to the children's hospitals, others went to the animal shelter, and one group decided to simply pay for people's laundry. For me, making someone's day was much more memorable than having dinner at a fancy restaurant.

2. It helps take your mind off work.

Most physicians pursue medicine because they want to help people, but it's easy to feel disconnected from that purpose when you're spending most of your time doing paperwork. Volunteering allows you to make life better for people without worrying about submitting an insurance claim after you're done. Stepping away from the office - even if it's just for an hour or two a month - can give you a needed dose of gratitude, empathy, and compassion.

3. It's a good way to keep your staff happy.

There's a lot of talk about work/life balance, but a better term may be work/life integration. Most of us don't have a bright line separating work life and home life - the two blend together. A lot of people at CompHealth are passionate about giving. So we have decided to not only allow them to volunteer during business hours but give them eight hours a year of paid volunteer time off. We've found this to be a great retention tool that doesn't cost much - it's just one more day added to our annual PTO package. 

4. Little efforts can have huge results.

I recently made a trip to the White House for the United State of Women Summit. It was amazing to hear from the president and first lady, Oprah, and dozens of other celebrities and nonprofit leaders who are working to improve the odds of success for women, especially those in the most-dire circumstances. But more than anything, I was inspired by the women who had been helped by these programs. They all mentioned someone who listened to them, or opened a door, or instilled a confidence they couldn't find on their own. It made me realize that making a difference isn't just about how much money you give or how much time you donate. It's really just about opening yourself up to the opportunity to help someone else.

Physician burnout doesn't just affect physicians. It impacts your family, friends, and patients. If you want to avoid it, it's important to find ways to step away now and then to take care of yourself. Sometimes the best way to do that is to take care of others.