Burnout is a commonly experienced phenomenon for both medical students and practicing physicians alike. Specialties that have been hit the hardest by burnout include emergency medicine, neurology, family medicine, and general internal medicine, and symptoms include exhaustion, depression, and depersonalization. And burnout doesn’t just affect the physicians.
In addition to being a personal issue for students and doctors, burnout affects patients negatively as well. Medical students and doctors suffer for the obvious reasons stated above, and the patients, in turn, may receive substandard treatment in the form of less empathetic doctors, longer wait and response times, and less present medical care. Clearly, burnout is an issue that needs to be kept in check for the betterment of the healthcare profession and the public at large.
Roots & Branches
Originally, burnout was believed to set in after several decades of doing the same thing, much like a mid-life crisis for the medical profession. Researchers have found, though, that the foundations of burnout are laid much earlier than one would expect. Medical school is often the breeding ground for burnout, and studies have shown that the further young doctors pursue their medical education, the more likely they are to experience burnout.
All these statistics have made one point frighteningly clear: with mounting administrative responsibilities and increased pressure and demands on their time, med students must take measures to combat burnout early on in their education and career or risk facing the dire consequences.
The question then becomes how to prevent or at least contain an evolving dilemma that seems to be interwoven into the fabric of a medical career, a symptom tied to the job itself. While many factors seem to be contributing to the phenomenon (a general loss of control, ever-increasing demands on doctors’ time, and an unrealistic expectation for the physicians to wear many hats), the underlying factor that links all victims seems to be less about age, stage, or practice and more to do with the overall workload and attitude towards that load.
Arming Students with the Right Tools
With all the present information at their disposal, researchers, universities, and medical centers are currently working fastidiously to help practicing and rising physicians combat burnout before it sets in.
Below are a few recommended practices to help students combat early burnout:
• Leave time for yourself. Personal off time is an absolute must to maintaining a healthy perspective on your life, career, and accomplishments.
• Find ways to enjoy meaningful experiences within your work/schooling routine. Whether it is writing reports, volunteering with student programs, or working with specific patient types, let 20% of your career revolve around these more satisfying activities to keep a healthy balance between the meaningful and the mundane.
• Resilience helps doctors and students find meaning in what they are doing. Encourage wellness and resilience among students including exercises in coping mechanisms, flexibility to adjust to changes, and stress awareness and prevention.
• Over two-thirds of medical students won’t reach out for help because of the perceived stigma. This rapidly increases the likelihood of burnout onset. Get the help you need, and don’t shy away from an outreached hand for fear of what others may say or how it might look.
With the correct work-personal time balance, along with a healthy combination of gratitude, meaningful interactions, and personal maturity, medical students and doctors can stave off burnout and look forward to a bright future in their medical careers.