Preventing Burnout

According to Maslach and Jackson, who created the Maslch Burnout Inventory (MBI), the symptoms and signs of burnout can be grouped under three headings:

  • Emotional Exhaustion,
  • Depersonalization (or Cynicism), and
  • Ineffectiveness.

The cost of such a condition, in a physician can be immeasurable – not just for the physician, but for the family, the colleagues, and for the community at large! Unfortunately, when trying to be strong, in the face of repeated stress,  physicians think they are doing the right thing, that has been taught to them, and is expected of them. They believe that everyone around them is looking up to them for strength and support, and any sign of weakness on their part would be harmful to everyone.

This, in reality, is far from the truth. We are doing nobody any favours, if we allow ourselves to suffer to the point of exhaustion, overwhelm and burnout. No patient would want to be served by a physician who is so emotionally depleted that he suffers from ‘compassion fatigue,’  nor would they be very understanding if a mistake was made by a physician who is exhausted, or didn’t really care enough! So, it behooves us to take care of ourselves, so that we can serve those whom we have committed to serve.

How do you prevent Burnout? Here are a few steps you can take, to avoid burnout.

1. Be Aware: Any change starts with self-awareness. We first need acknowledge that this is something we are all susceptible to, and that there is a certain courage in recognising problems and seeking help as required! If we think that we are in some way immune to the stresses, or that we are capable of handling it all on our own, we could be deluding ourselves.

It is important to know and detect the symptoms and signs early, and have an idea of what you are willing to endure, and for how long.

2. Be proactive: Smart people solve problems, by avoiding them in the first place. For example, every physician requests tests, and will receive the results in some form (electronic or paper). Isn’t it the smart thing to do, then, to set up a system, whereby the results will be looked at and acted upon, in a seamless way, least delay? Once this is in place, the chances of missing an important report can be minimised. Similarly, we can have different structures in place to deal with referrals, phone calls, etc. Maintaining a well organized and functioning office is perhaps the best thing one can do, from the professional point of view.

There are many things we can do on the personal level as well, like taking care of minor ailments to avoid major complications, clearing small misunderstandings in relationships to prevent build-up of resentment, and so on.

3. Be very clear of Your Values and Your Mission: You need to know what are the values that are most important to you, as a person, the violation of which will bring you pain. It will also help, if you know what you really hope to accomplish, through those values – in the near, and the distant future.

4. Prioritize: Once you know what is important, you can try to get more of what you want in your life. This includes knowing what is not important, that takes up our time and energy, that you can cut out of your life.  This also means being able to say “No” to things that encroach upon your priorities.

5. Take care of your body, mind and spirit: Eating regularly, eating the right foods, and exercising should not be something relegated to when you have time. It would help to have some activity outside of work, that can help stimulate you in a totally different way, and make you happy. Volunteering is great, not just to balance out the stresses, but also to get some endorphins flowing! A spiritual practice helps to navigate the ocean of life, the currents of which can at times be very turbulent. Make sure you take time for renewal on a regular basis.

6. Build a support system: Have a good team around you. Choose your colleagues carefully, if you are in a position to do so. Make it a point to cultivate good relationships with supportive people, whom you can call upon, when you need help. It also means that you should have trusted people you can delegate all those tasks to, that you don’t really need to do yourself.

7. Learn to be a good team-player: It is important to try and understand that people are different, and that having different people is what makes a team strong. So, when conflicts arise, remember that it is most likely due to a simple difference in mental wiring or a difference in priorities. If you learn to understand the differences, and can learn to negotiate, and to work together – then you can avoid a huge source of stress in your life.

I have simply put together a few suggestions, many that have worked for me, and some, that I am still working on.

Please e-mail me with any comments, suggestions or questions.

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