What drives your burnout?


What drives your burnout? Better yet, how do you prevent yourself from getting burned out? Dr. Chao raises this important issue in this month's physician column.

Doctor Burnout (©MonikaWisniewska_AdobeStock)


Dr. Chao

Dr. Chao

Where would be the last place you’d expect me to write this column? This month, it’s not from home, when it’s during nap time for my two daughters. I am currently in a jury assembly room at the San Diego County Courthouse where I’m being considered for jury duty. As I was taking the time to think, and to sketch out ideas for my next talk, the thought popped into my mind, “What about writing about something that is increasingly recognized in physicians and nurses?”  

Burnout is never far from the mind of a physician. But why? What are some of the key factors that lead to burnout? Here are my thoughts:

1. EHRs. Need I say more?

2. Appointment slots that are too brief. We know that 15 minutes is definitely not enough to help our patients who suboptimally adherent and not at glycemic goal.

3. _____________________________. I purposely left this one blank for you to share your thoughts. What drives your burnout? Better yet, how do you prevent yourself from getting burned out?

I’m a relentless optimist, but I too face the challenges we all share. I try to be clear-eyed about difficulties, while searching for solutions. With these competing, but mutually crucial perspectives, I offer some vehicles to counter overload which, in some small way, may lead to fulfillment.

1. Pilot a project.  Identify that one nuisance, task or pain point that presents a never-ending challenge. Perhaps a quality improvement project (such as refining a multidisciplinary approach to driving hemoglobin A1cs lower.) Or, maybe that one irritant that rises to the top involves streamlining clinic workflows. Or, perhaps consult approval and triaging. Pursue a passion outside of your usual comfort zone! But, don’t just tiptoe into a new passion―devote yourself to becoming an expert.

2. Teach or mentor someone, whether it be a medical student, resident, fellow or a colleague. There definitely is someone out there who can benefit from your experience and knowledge! The National Research Mentoring Network  offers various mentoring programs. Check these out online. I think you’ll find it worthwhile.

3. Volunteer in your community. Give a talk to an elementary or high school or a group of seniors. The Fleet Science Museum started a lecture series called, “Two Scientists Walk into a Bar.” The Fleet Center said in a news release: “Two Scientists Walk Into a Bar is helping to “put a face” on science and breaking down barriers between the STEM community and the general public. There are no presentations, no slides and no microphone-just two scientists sitting in a bar, engaging the public in casual conversation and making connections in a non-threatening atmosphere.”

I hope these suggestions have sparked your interest in seeking other ways to reduce stress, and enhance fulfillment. Beyond placing work into perspective, one or more of these could leave a lasting legacy to your community and your colleagues!

Dr. Chao is an associate clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego, and the Veterans Administration San Diego Healthcare System.

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