5 Steps to Restore the Joy of Medicine

Sometimes even little things can go a long way toward changing your mindset and your stress level. These five ideas can get you back on the track to a joy-filled career.

“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think.”

—Buddha

I sure hope that physicians aren’t getting burned-out just from the mere mention of “burnout.” Anyway, with at least half of all American doctors now admitting to some degree of burnout, it might finally be getting the proper attention it deserves.

My physician-dad held that a doctor probably couldn’t offer the best of medical care if they did not first take care of themselves. He thought that a physician was obligated to set high standards. And despite some ups and downs in his life, my father took good care of himself. Personal well-being was important to him. The man lived, mostly fit and happy, for parts of 10 decades.

I trust my dad would believe that doctors are too indispensable not to overcome burnout. According to Liselotte Dyrbye, MD, Associate Director of the Mayo Clinic’s Physician Well-Being Program, the development of coping strategies can be key to improving physician self-care and building resiliency. Arranging time “for the things that really matter” is vital, says Dr. Dyrbye.

“Finding the right balance between personal interests and professional demands is very challenging,” explained Dr. Dyrbye in a recent AMA interview, “but for stressed out doctors even just one day spent on themselves can lower rates of depersonalization and keep physicians from the clenches of cynicism.” She offers six tips to improve personal well-being:

Make that Trip to Europe. If ever there was a job that required an occasional respite, it’s the practice of medicine. But research shows that doctors frequently postpone vacations. Too often the priority is not their wellness but their work. Taking a simple, regular vacations is a reliable burnout buster.

Whistle While You Work. Like all workers, physicians have things they have to do and things they want to do. Finding and scheduling those meaningful things you actually want to do on a regular weekly basis can help build personal satisfaction and reduce burnout.

Let’s Talk Honey. If things are troubled at home it’s likely to impact your medical workplace. Spouses don’t need to agree on all things, just honest attempts at open dialogue. And quality communication in marriage is a learned ability requiring lots of practice.

Get Some Gratification. The very nature of being a physician—lengthy education, needy patients, long hours, massive paperwork—requires sacrifice. Medicine can be all-consuming. But taking time for personal interests is a basic human need. Permit the free time to do whatever you want to be a gift to yourself.

Look Good, Feel Good. Practice what you preach. Sustaining a balanced and healthy lifestyle can make all the difference in how you view your life and your work. Physical and emotional fitness can partner in allowing doctors to be more confident in their ability to make and deal with breakneck medical change.

Doctor Burnout FYIs:

• According to a recent Jackson Healthcare survey, the typical “satisfied physician” is under age 45, works an eight-hour day, is an employee having never worked in private practice, and has a high number of patients with private insurance.

• A recent Mayo Clinic/AMA survey identified the medical specialties with the highest burnout rates. The top five are: emergency medicine (71%), urology (63%), physical medicine and rehabilitation (63%), family medicine (63%), and radiology (61%). The specialties with the least burnout include: pediatrics, preventive/occupational medicine, and psychiatry.