Category Archives: Doctor Burnout

Self-Care Strategies For Medical Practitioners

As the population enters another month of social distancing and self-isolation in an effort to combat the COVID-19 outbreak, it is becoming increasingly important for individuals to prioritize their physical, mental, and emotional health. The so-called “new normal” many find themselves living in has been characterized by heightened stress levels, long work hours, increased feelings of loneliness and hopelessness, as well as a persisting need to support and care for loved ones. During such an overwhelming time, it is important to take the necessary self-care measures that can work to mitigate negative emotional and physical responses to the pandemic – many of which may be happening subconsciously.

Both deteriorating physical and mental health can impede the ability to provide much-needed medical and home care, give and receive support, and to fulfill the needs of a growing number of patients. Whether you are one of the healthcare providers braving the crisis and fighting the virus on the front lines, a first-time telemedicine practitioner, or a medical professional with a practice currently closed, it is essential to take the time to incorporate some of the self-care strategies listed below when possible.

Self-Care Strategies

Boosting both physical and mental health requires regular check-ins throughout the day. Make sure to check in not only with your family and friends, but equally as importantly with yourself – how are you feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally? Paying attention to your current state will help identify what you may need at that moment, whether that is a walk around the neighborhood, a nutritious meal, or some physical exercise. The recommendations below are simple to incorporate into a daily routine yet may prove tremendously effective in improving overall wellbeing.

Physical Health

Supporting physical health is vital to ensure a well-functioning immune system and to protect it from the risk of COVID-19 infection. Several ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle despite the circumstances – inclusive of regular physical activity and a well-balanced diet – are listed below:

•   Maintain a sleeping schedule and get enough rest; aim to sleep for around 7 to 8 hours per night.

•   Engage in physical activity every day – this can include walks around the block, jogging, or exercising at home.

•   Spend time outside (following social distancing guidelines) and in nature; studies have found that being outdoors is one of the quickest methods of improving health and wellbeing.

•   Eat regularly and fuel your body with a healthy, nutritious diet.

•   Make sure to hydrate as dehydration can have noxious effects on physical health; aim for about 2 liters of water per day.

•   Avoid substance use and destructive behaviors; abusing alcohol or drugs at this time may worsen both physical and mental health, take a toll on the immune system, and lead to other repercussions.

Mental Health 

Taking care of your mental health is equally as important; the heightened stress levels and rising feelings of loneliness can contribute to declines in immune system functioning as a result of related hormonal changes.

•   Find ways to connect with yourself and those around you – this can include regular phone or video calls, communicating throughout the day, and mindful personal check-ins.

•   Set a routine and try to maintain it; devoting specific times of the day to work, chores, home life, and self-care can help provide much-needed structure.

•   Instead of worrying about the public health crisis at hand, focus on things you can control, including work-related tasks, healthy lifestyle habits, and time spent connecting with the people around you.

•   Consider introducing relaxation techniques throughout the day, such as deep breathing, stretching, meditation, and yoga practice.

•   Use technology mindfully; many individuals are increasingly turning to social media, television, and their computers as a way of spending idle time. While it is needed to maintain social interactions and continue business operations, the amount of unnecessary time spent in front of a screen should be minimized.

•   Listen to music, read books, and pursue other stimulating activities instead.

•   Explore online resources and applications for managing anxiety and other mental health concerns at this time; the CDC has compiled a list of helpful coping strategies, accessible here. 

To be best equipped to provide health care and other support services, medical practitioners must prioritize their physical health and emotional wellbeing, which can be extremely difficult for those working within the healthcare system. While the consistent efforts of healthcare practitioners of all backgrounds are invaluable, the demands of the oft-dysfunctional healthcare system can take a significant toll on their physical and mental health. Many are struggling with traumatic stress responses or battling the infection themselves. As integral members of our shared communities, medical workers are encouraged to remember that they are not alone and to seek the therapeutic support and medical care they need.

Regardless of specialty, finding the time to practice self-care is now more important than ever; introducing some of the above strategies into your daily routine can significantly improve overall health and wellbeing. Additional recommendations, including specific tips for first responders and health care providers, have been made available by the CDC and can be found here.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or through chat on

The Real Cost of Physician Burnout

In recent years, leading health care organizations have declared physician burnout, or the state of physical and mental exhaustion associated with job stress, a public health crisis. The problem is so pervasive that burnout was added to the list of medical conditions by the World Health Organization in May of this year. Compared to average American workers, physicians are experiencing twice as much burnout, which may lead to high turnover, lower-quality care, and suboptimal patient outcomes. In addition to raising significant ethical concerns, overworked and unhappy physicians are taxing on the U.S. economy, costing the nation $4.6 billion per year, according to new research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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Physician Burnout: A National Epidemic

“In nothing do men more nearly approach the gods than in giving health to men.” -Cicero

‘Burnout:’ loss of enthusiasm, low sense of accomplishment, along with persistent feelings of exhaustion and ineffectiveness pervade the medical profession according to a spate of recent studies and articles. The statistics are jarring: research demonstrates that the level of physician burnout has trended upwards in the past two years, with a 25% increase over a four-year period, and all indications suggest no change in course.

An article in the Archives of Internal Medicine about a 2012 study reveals a gloomy picture. The study supporting this conclusion included responses and data from a large sample of physicians nationwide representing a range of disciplines. The findings demonstrated that not only was burnout more common among physicians than other workers throughout the United States, but physicians in specialties at the front line of care were found to be at the greatest risk. The 2016 Medscape Physician Lifestyle Report delivered similar findings, reporting that almost half of all physicians stated that they had experienced burnout. An analysis from researchers at the Mayo Clinic and the American Medical Association likewise reported that doctors’ work-life balance is worsening, with the conclusion that patient care will be negatively impacted.

Even more concerning was data reported in a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, suggesting that the rate of depression among doctors in training is much greater than in the general population. The negative effect of burnout among doctors is, moreover, linked to alarming consequences including higher rates of medical error with increased malpractice exposure, larger numbers of staff turnover, physician alcohol and drug abuse, and even suicide. While it is believed that fatalities from physician burnout are underreported, research does reveal that the suicide rate among doctors surpasses that of the general population.

In response to the national epidemic of physician burnout, a chief wellness officer has been added to the staff of Stanford Medicine. In an unprecedented move for an American academic medical institution, Tait Shanafelt, MD is now leading Stanford Medicine’s pioneering program in the area of health care provider wellness. At a time when physician burnout has “nationally reached an all-time high,” Dr. Shanafelt directs the WellMD Center at Stanford Medicine, while serving as associate dean.

Shanafelt has broken new ground in the field of wellness among medical professionals by creating and assessing numerous national surveys that have collected information from over 30,000 physicians and 9,000 workers from other disciplines nationwide. The survey results have confirmed increasing rates of burnout among doctors; in 2014, more than 50% of those surveyed were suffering from “emotional exhaustion, loss of meaning in work, or a sense of ineffectiveness and a lack of engagement with patients.” Shanafelt’s studies have established that while physicians suffer, patients do as well, since burnout leads to increased errors and higher rates of mortality among hospitalized individuals.

Shanafelt opines that the trend of physician burnout is “eroding the soul of medicine.” While many leaders in healthcare recognize that burnout is a serious problem, most do not know how to effectively address it. Complicating the problem, physician distress remains a fairly taboo subject in the workplace. To date, stress management and burnout prevention are not covered comprehensively in medical school or residency training. Shanafelt is working to build and strengthen Stanford’s innovative WellMD Center, where more than 200 physicians have worked since 2016, by implementing peer support, stress reduction, and programs aimed at cultivating compassion and resilience. Another focus of the center’s work is a reduction of pressure among physicians through an improvement in efficiency and simplification of workplace systems.

The first American Conference on Physician Health took place in October at the center, co-sponsored by the American Medical Association and the Mayo Clinic. The primary goal of this event was the creation of a national dialogue surrounding the issue of physician burnout, and the implementation of tools to address physician distress with programs that promote “physician autonomy, efficiency, collegiality, and a sense of community.”

At A4M/MMI, we recognize that the significant and growing problem of physician burnout poses a direct threat to quality of patient care. We believe that there must a collective shift in attitude so that we can move towards an optimal system of healthcare. Only with recognition of the problem will we reach our goal, and help physicians feel motivated and passionate, while moving away from those traditional practices that inevitably lead to doctor burnout. For the past quarter of a century, we have continued the journey to help reshape and redefine the face of medicine, with the goal of reinvigorating physicians so that they can more effectively heal their patients. A4M/MMI faculty emphasize the importance for healthcare practitioners and professionals to rediscover and renew their professional passion, while learning new and innovative methods to prevent burnout before it takes hold.