Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Are you burning out?

Author: Heather Fork, MD, CPCC

Spit If You Think You Have Burnout! But let me duck first.

Your saliva may predict whether or not you might be at high risk for burnout, according to researchers in Montreal, as reported in Psychoneuroendocrinology.

By analyzing a sample of spit, abnormally low levels of the stress hormone cortisol can be detected – a red flag for impending burnout.

“Great!” You may be thinking. “A test to predict those at risk for burnout.  Use that for medical students; I’m already burned out.” 

I find that a lot of doctors feel burned out, but have not been given much, if any, information on burnout and what can be done.  Because burnout occurs in stages, and has a variety of symptoms and causes, there are no simple “one-size fits all” explanations or pat remedies. 



But there are some fundamentals we can begin with.  In a nutshell, burnout is the experience of long-term exhaustion and diminished interest. Burnout has 3 main components:

•    Emotional Exhaustion – those in the helping professions who deal with illness and death are especially at risk.  No surprises here.
•    Depersonalization – people are seen more as objects; cynicism develops, and there is a tendency to isolate.
•    Decreased Personal Accomplishment – work becomes less satisfying; there is joyless striving.

If you are emotionally drained, have difficulty feeling empathetic towards your patients, and dread going to work, you may be on the road to burnout.

Dr. Tait Shanafelt, director of Mayo Clinic’s Physician Well-Being program, has reported that at any given time, 1 in 3 physicians is experiencing burnout.

Do you feel like you might be that 1 in 3 with burnout?

Here is a 1 minute online survey you can take to assess your degree of burnout.

Please note that this is a non-validated assessment.  The gold standard for assessing burnout is the Maslach Burnout Inventory, which is used in most formal studies on burnout.

If you are considering leaving medicine, it is important to understand what role burnout may be playing in your decision.

Addressing the burnout can be an avenue to turning around a career that was about to be jettisoned.  Or it may be an indication that clinical medicine is no longer for you.

About the author:

Heather Fork, MD, CPCC, is owner and founder of the Doctor’s Crossing. As an ICF certified coach, she works with physicians who are seeking to renew and reinvigorate their careers and avoid burnout. She helps doctors tap into their natural abilities and passion to create new and inspiring opportunities within clinical medicine or through non-clinical options. Knowing that too many physicians are suffering from stress and burnout, Dr. Fork is dedicated to improving physician well-being collectively, as well as individually. Read about Dr. Fork here.

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