A double-edged sword: What makes doctors great also drives burnout

A double-edged sword: What makes doctors great also drives burnout

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By AMA staff writer Troy Parks – 6/21/2016

 

A physician burnout expert from the Mayo Clinic explained earlier this month at the 2016 AMA Annual Meeting how physicians in the current health care system often have an intrinsic risk of burnout. Learn about the role that the “physician personality” can play in burnout and ways Mayo has found to help address burnout as a system-wide issue.

What’s happening to physicians?

“If I told you we had a system issue that affected quality of care, limited access to care, and eroded patient satisfaction, that affected up to half of patient encounters,” said Tait Shanafelt, MD, a hematologist and physician burnout researcher at the Mayo Clinic, “you would immediately assign a team of systems engineers, physicians, administrators at your center to fix that problem rapidly.”

“On a societal level folks would look at us and think we have a recipe for great personal and professional satisfaction,” he said. “We engage in work that society values and thinks is meaningful work. And yet our own literature has been telling a different story about the experience of being a physician.”That’s what burnout is, he said. It’s a system issue. “And we have not mobilized the way we would to address other factors affecting quality access and patient satisfaction,” Dr. Shanafelt said.

A recent study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings took a look at how physician burnout compares to the general population and found that physicians displayed almost double the rate of emotional exhaustion as the general working population and reported lower satisfaction with work-life balance (36.0 percent for physicians, versus 61.3 percent of the general working population).

Dr. Shanafelt said that burnout is often the result of three components:

  • Depersonalization: Treating people as though they’re objects rather than human beings
  • Emotional exhaustion: Losing enthusiasm for your work
  • Low personal accomplishment: Feeling you’re ineffective in your work, whether or not that is an accurate perception

“All of us have those feelings to some frequency and some severity,” he said. “But when they come too often and to too severe an extent, they can begin to undermine your effectiveness in your work.”

“This syndrome differs from the global impairment of depression,” he said. “It primarily relates to your professional spirit of life, and it primarily affects individuals whose work involves an intense interaction with people—so professions such as teachers, social workers, police officers, nurses and physicians.”

 

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