W. Lloyd Clark, MD: Burnout Among Retina Specialists, Ophthalmologists


As physician burnout becomes a more common issue, physician across an array of fields find themselves discussing and formulating ways to circumvent burnout.

Physician burnout is a growing issue that does not discriminate between fields and subspecialties. Retina specialists and ophthalmologists are no exception. 

Previous studies have indicated that burnout may be higher among ophthalmologists than many other specialties and that has sparked a plethora of discussions within the field. These conversations do not headline conference sessions or end up presented in poster hells, rather they take place in the hallways and outside of the packed halls. 

W. Lloyd Clark, MD, physician at the Palmetto Retina Center, sat down with MD Magazine® at the 2019 American Society of Retina Specialists Annual Meeting in Chicago to discuss how burnout is viewed and dealt with among retina specialists, and ophthalmologists as a whole. While Clark was adamant burnout was something he personally had not experienced, he pointed to multiple causes of it within the field.

From electronic medical records to an increasingly demanding schedule, Clark sees how the changes that have occurred since he began practicing 20 years ago have played a role in physician burnout. 

MD Mag: How has burnout impacted retina specialists and ophthalmology as a whole?

Clark: I can't say that I have personal experience with burnout. I would say that, now, beginning my 20th year in clinical practice — the burdens of clinical practice are much more substantial than they were a generation ago and we've heard that from our predecessors. That, sort of, the non-clinical aspects of medicine become more intrusive and I think that certainly has been the case during the generation that I've been in clinical practice. I think the electronic medical record is a big intrusion in terms of the patient-physician relationship.

Now, there is some positives to the EMR, but at the end of the day it is a major intrusion

in terms of the physician-patient relationship and it's also a tremendous drain on resources. Time, financial resources — it has represented a change in the way practice is run. I think retina specialists in particular can feel that sense of burnout. Our pattern of clinical practice has changed in my career — 20 years ago when I went into clinical practice, I came into retina as a surgeon and we did lots of surgery and we went to the clinic to take care of patients but to identify surgical patients that needed surgical care and to manage them post-operatively.

Now, surgery has become a diminishing role in our practices and now we have very, very

high volume injection practices. The pattern, the rhythm of retina practice has accelerated and I think that at times that can feel overwhelming. So, I can understand why many physicians feel that way. It is a very busy, sometimes chaotic specialty and it takes a lot of resources and commitment to keep that in check.

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