On December 24, 2017, I wrote a Facebook post detailing the turmoil two women physicians felt over not being able to spend Christmas with their children due to having to work unexpectedly because of a scheduling mix-up. The response from other physicians was overwhelmingly positive. However, the responses from some non-physician health care workers and some members of the public were quite disappointing. They ranged from “you chose it’, to “other people work hard, too”, to “but physicians make a lot of money.”
These responses made me realize that many non-physicians have no clue what it is like to be a physician. And this lack of empathy from the people we work with and the very people to whom we have dedicated our professional lives to serve, is a huge reason that physicians are burned out.
Physician burn-out is a problem that everyone should be concerned about. In fact, I consider physician burn-out a public health issue. There is a shortage of physicians which is projected to get worse in the next few years as the American public ages. The physicians currently in the work force are “thinking about quitting medicine” due to increased workloads, decreased pay, loss of autonomy, and the threat of being replaced by non-physician providers.
To ensure that all Americans have access to care by a physician, we must support physicians by addressing the causes of physician burnout. Although there have been several large studies and there are several large initiatives underway by health care organizations to look at the causes and cures of physician burn-out, there are three simple things that the public can do help with this issue.
- Listen. When any physician complains about their job, the long hours, how tired they are, or how frustrated they are about the state of health care in this country, just listen. Oftentimes, we are venting and need to be heard. We love our jobs and we love our patients. We have made tremendous sacrifices to be physicians. But sometimes our job sucks. And we just need to be heard.
- Don’t judge. If you are not a physician, you have NO IDEA what it is like to be a physician. Being a physician is nothing like it is portrayed on television. We are real people, caring for real patients, and it is literally life or death. Every. Single. Day. So please, refrain from judging us, because you really don’t know what it is like to do what we do.
- If you can’t say anything nice……. This means refrain writing negative comments or the “other people have it bad, too” comments on social media posts and articles written by and for physicians. Physicians in general don’t comment negatively on posts and articles designed to support other members of the health care team. We would appreciate it if you all showed us the same respect. Realize that everything isn’t about you. If you can’t say anything nice…. just scroll on by.
In this battle against physician burn out, simple things mean a lot. A listening, nonjudgmental ear, and a little empathy can make all the difference in the world in the life and career of a physician.