It’s good to seek professional help and try coping strategies when you’re feeling burned out. But if those don’t work, then it might be time to consider prioritizing yourself and walking away from your job.
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Last August, I unknowingly did something that would change my life. I saved an article from the Harvard Business Review entitled “When burnout is a sign you should leave your job.”
I carefully reread and highlighted the article a month later. I also found an online job satisfaction assessment from Scientific American that ranked your work environment based on six key aspects: workload, control, reward, community, fairness and values. When I added up my score, the results were clear. I was burned out.
Still, I continued to trudge through the daily grind. I convinced myself that I could get through my dissatisfaction and that things were going to change. I tried many strategies to help me cope. I ate as many fruits and vegetables as I could. I exercised. I revisited hobbies when I had time. I took a trip to Scotland with my husband. I tried to lean in to my strengths at work and communicate more with my boss about areas for improvement. I practiced tighter boundaries in my career and personal life. Still, things only seemed to get worse.
As I was trying all of these things, there was a quiet but persistent thought in the back of my mind that I should seek professional help. I came up with several excuses for why I shouldn’t go. It’s expensive. It’s embarrassing. What will I tell my family? My pride finally lost, and in early December I set up an appointment with a counselor.
I have grown to view counseling as a very normal and healthy part of life. We don’t hesitate to prepare for meetings or train for running marathons, so why shouldn’t we learn how to deal with mental and emotional stressors. I started explaining my need for counseling to myself by saying, “I’m seeing a counselor because I need a little extra support and some practical tools to get through this season of career burnout. It is a sign of strength, not weakness.”
I think a common barrier that keeps other providers like me from seeking help is concern over licensure. It is unfortunate that so many let this keep us from getting the help we need. I would encourage other healthcare providers to consider speaking with a counselor if you are feeling burned out.
Nothing about that would - or should - jeopardize someone from getting a license. There is no debilitating diagnosis attached to a person for merely seeing a counselor. If anything, I would argue that it is a sign of maturity and mental fortitude to any future employer or licenser, though of course there’s no requirement to disclose anything.
Through my sessions, I learned I did not score high for depression but scored very high for anxiety. As my counselor and I worked through my triggers, I learned they were all specific to my environment. My counselor taught me some practical methods of combating that anxiety in the workplace. These strategies were focused on coping since most of the anxiety was caused by my environment. However, they could not change the root problem.
I learned about the ramifications of “trudging through” my job dissatisfaction. If I stayed at my job, in my current mental state and physical situation, I would not only be harming my family and myself, but also potentially my patients.
With my counselor’s help, I now was able to confront the truth. I needed to leave my job. She encouraged me to take action and face the unknowns of the future with courage and strength.
I put in my notice a few weeks ago. With three workdays left, I can say I am 100 percent sure I am making the right decision.
Although it was best for me to quit my job, I still care deeply about fighting burnout. I pose these questions to the healthcare industry:
Rachel Gordon, PA-C, has a passion for international medicine. She has worked as a physician assistant for four years, three of which were spent working with refugee patients in Aurora, Colo. She is a graduate of the Harding University Physician Assistant Program in her home state of Arkansas. As she transitions to her next chapter, she looks forward to writing, reading, and spending time with friends and family.
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