Physician burn-out is a very real and dangerous phenomenon. Not only does it negatively impact patient care, physician burn out can be deadly. It can lead to depression and then to suicide as physicians feel hopeless and trapped in their current situations. Renewed attention has been paid to physician burn out due to the recent changes in the rules governing intern and resident work hours. The new rules state that interns will be allowed to work 24 hour shifts. Now those of us old enough to have trained in the old system, worked up to 36 hours at a time. However, many physicians are concerned about how these new rules along with the overall grueling schedules that physicians keep will impact the rates of physician burn out. Throughout the course of my 17 years as a physician, I have discovered three strategies to help me lessen my risk of burn out.
The Eat, Sleep, Pee Strategy. This is especially important for upcoming interns. The best piece of advice I ever received was to “eat when you can, sleep when you can, and pee when you can.”This is especially important when you are at work. You never know when you must deal with an emergency or you get behind in your schedule and are unable to eat. So, make time to eat. Proper nutrition is important for you to function at your best. Sleep when you can. If you are on call and you have some downtime, go lay down in the call room. Take a nap. Any amount of sleep helps. When I was on call or working nights, I would always try to sleep between 2 am and 5 am if possible. The third thing is to pee when you can. Always take a bathroom break. There is no worse feeling in the world than to have to deal with an emergency with a full bladder. Not fun.
Even though this is “tongue in cheek”, it speaks to the larger issue of self-care for physicians and making sure that you take care of your basic needs. I cannot tell you how many physicians I know both in training and the real world, who skip meals, are sleep deprived and run around with a full bladder because things get so hectic at work at times. Remember this, self-care is the best care.
The Eat, Pray, Love Strategy. Eat, Pray, Love was a movie starring Julia Roberts that came out in 2010. It chronicles a woman who embarks on a journey to discover herself during a turning point in her career. I use the Eat, Pray, Love strategy to combat physician burn out. Eating not only entails physical eating (you would be surprised at how many physicians skip meals and thus get physically fatigued), but it also relates to how we nourish ourselves. We must nourish our body physically, spiritually, and emotionally. And we must do this every single day. Having a connection to God, or whatever higher power you believe in is essential. Daily prayer and or mediation serves to reconnect ourselves with a higher power and to recharge ourselves spiritually and emotionally. To combat burn-out we must spend time with the people we love (or like) doing the things we love. This needs to be a priority. Every day we need to connect with others.
The LSG Strategy. LSG stands for “Let Sh*t Go” Strategy. It is a variation of the Serenity Prayer” “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”You must determine what things are within your control and what things are not within your control. Once you determine that you cannot change that thing, “Let It Go”. This means that after you have done what you are supposed to do pertaining to a person, place, situation, etc., you must release and not carry that burden with you. This is difficult for us as physicians because we are often Type A personalities, extremely driven and competitive. We want to be our best, do our best, and we want everything to work out the way we think it should. When it does not, we sometimes feel as though we are a failure. And unless we can snap out of this feeling, we have a higher risk of burnout.
To learn how doing locums can lessen your risk of burnout, schedule your one hour Locums Strategy Session with Dr. Stephanie.