4 Ways to Avoid Burnout

Health care providers have some of the highest burnout rates, with physicians being a prime example. Burnout can present itself in several ways, including emotional exhaustion, being cynical or sarcastic about patients and having a feeling of reduced accomplishment.

“Over the last 25 years, repeated studies have shown an average of 1 in 3 doctors suffer from symptomatic physician burnout on any given office day. That statistic is stunning enough. The fact that this average is worldwide and regardless of specialty is even more fascinating. Some surveys — typically among surgeons — show physician burnout rates over 70%. There is no reason to think nursing burnout, or administrator burnout are any less prevalent. CEO turnover in health care is the highest of all measured industries,” says The Happy MD blog.

Often, health care providers are afraid to say anything about their feelings and their colleagues are afraid to ask about them. It’s important to be self aware, and to say something when you think a friend, family member or colleague may be struggling with burnout.

How to identify burnout

It’s hard to know when feelings of frustration or exhaustion are more than the stress of studying for finals or working long hours in a residency or internship program. The exhaustion part of burnout is often a mental sense of disillusionment and can’t be fixed with a few days off. Here are some more specific signs of burnout:

  • Negative or critical attitude at work
  • Dreading going to work/class
  • Low energy and little interest at work
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Skipping work/class
  • Easily irritable
  • Pulling away emotionally
  • Blaming others for mistakes

Sometimes, burnout can manifest as physical discomfort, such as headaches, illness or even back pain. You may be thinking these symptoms are very similar to stress, but stress is much more short-term than burnout. Stress changes when situations change, but burnout will remain.

The consequences of burnout are not always discussed. It’s felt by many that pushing through is the only way to “fix” the behavior. As health care students and professionals, it is critical that burnout be treated seriously, before it spills over into your personal life.

Ways to avoid burnout

Identifying best practices to avoid burnout will help those who are not yet experiencing it. There are several ways to work through burnout if you are looking for ways to help others. Don’t forget that while stress and burnout are two separate things, they should both be taken seriously and can both be treated with the help of your health care professional.

Work with purpose

Do you still feel that your work is important? While studying, you may feel like giving up because you are not yet helping people or “changing the world.” You will have days where you struggle to see your impact, but there will also be days where you feel like you are truly making a difference. Ask yourself a few of these questions on those days where you are struggling:

  • How does your work make life better for other people?
  • How many people did you help today?
  • How could you add more meaning to what you do every day?

There are days when everyone feels a little defeated, and that isn’t meant to bring anyone down, but to help them realize that it’s part of the cycle of life. If you feel this way repeatedly, you may want to look into a different field or a different atmosphere. Sometimes changing your environment can give you a new perspective.

Perform a job analysis

Sometimes, when studying and planning for a specific career path, it gets built up on a pedestal in our minds. When faced with the reality — and often ingloriousness — of the job, we feel a bit disappointed. This is so common in the health care profession when students spend years upon years working towards a goal. First, know that this is normal! Second, start making a few lists of what exactly your job entails.

When work begins to seem monotonous, it can become stressful, which can lead to burnout. One great way to combat this early on would be to have a clear understanding of what is expected of you in this position. You may just need to let that extra stuff go. Talk to your supervisor about the roles you are to fill and be honest if you think it is too much. Ask for help, ask for some mentorship and be prepared to talk about some alternatives. Communication is key!

Exercise regularly

Exercise really does make people happier. You probably learned this in one of your biology or chemistry classes, and you surely have firsthand knowledge of this as well. A little fresh air and a walk through campus almost always lifts your spirits. But it’s hard to fit exercise into a busy schedule, both as a student and as a health care professional.

Productivity increases when exercise is part of a regular routine. It can also help alleviate some of the stress that may be pushing you towards burnout. It will also help you sleep better! Try squeezing in a little exercise before or after work, or even walking on a lunch break. Yoga is a great way to become more in tune with your body and develop strength. Bring in your coworkers by making it a challenge.

Learn more techniques to manage stress

While we know stress is different from burnout, some of the techniques to work through these things can be the same. It’s also important to know how to manage short-term stress so it doesn’t develop into anything more. Some of the most common stress relief practices include:

  • Journaling
  • Yoga or mediation
  • Essential Oils
  • Acupuncture
  • Healthy diet

Don’t let stress or burnout ruin your career before it even gets started. Focus on the positives, watch out for the signs and work together within your community to help others in similar situations.


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