I recently gave a talk at my hospital Grand Rounds, about Burnout, which is one of my favourite topics. There were a few questions asked, which I thought I could try and answer here.
“If I take any time off, what will happen to my patients?”
I would like to clarify that I wasn’t asking people to all take lots of time off, and go away! On the other hand, I suggested that everybody needs rest, and that we should all be sensible about recognizing that need, and taking rest, before we become too fatigued, and forced to rest. If we wait until we have to go, then we will not be able to enjoy such time off. Also, if going away for any length of time is impossible, then make sure that the time that we get every day that we come home after work, be well utilized to recover as completely as possible, from the stresses of the day.
It is very true, especially in community hospitals, that there often is nobody else who shares the care of our patients, normally. We have a great rapport with most of our patients, and the sense of responsibility for their well being is also great. This can lead to a sense of guilt, even at the thought of having to make them wait longer to see us, or worse, having to cancel their appointment, for any reason.
On the other hand, we have a responsibility also to give them our best, when we are with them. If we work ourselves to the point of burnout, then we will surely be unable to feel the compassion that the patients need, and perhaps the good judgment we need in certain situations that call for more involved, critical thinking. This can lead to mistakes, or at the very least, misunderstandings and a loss of trust and that very rapport that we try to maintain, by not missing work!
To look at things from a broader perspective, imagine a freshly dug hole in the ground. At first, the hole will have very sharp banks, but slowly, the soil around it will shift, the edges will look blunt, and eventually, the hole will disappear. How long it takes to fill the hole will depend on how big the hole was, but fill up, it will.
Similarly, if a physician suddenly drops out of the scene – due to illness or (heaven forbid) death, there will be a void at first. The size of that void will depend on how well that physician was thought of. It is probably the physician’s own family who will be the most severely affected – let’s make no mistake about that. However, life will go on. Sooner or later, alternate arrangements will be made, others will move in, and the patients will get taken care of, the work will get done.
It is true that each of us is unique – and nobody will be able to do things exactly as you do it! But people will learn to adjust and even like the way it eventually gets done. That is how they will cope with the change themselves.
So, ultimately, it is in our own interests to not be forced to drop out of our working lives before we are ready to go. Also, we owe it to our patients to give them our best, when we are there, in front of them, giving them our full attention.
I will answer some of the other questions that have been raised, in future posts.