Tag Archives: burnout

The Physician’s Pursuit of Work-Life Balance 

Current burnout rates and physician dissatisfaction levels are nearing an all-time high; with the ever-increasing demands of a pandemic-torn healthcare system, a work-life balance is not easy to achieve within this profession. Per recent research, physicians work an average of 51.4 hours a week while nearly a quarter works between 61 and 80 hours a week, making it increasingly difficult for them to balance their personal needs with their work schedule. At the same time, 92% of surveyed physicians aged 35 or younger reported work-life balance to be an important aspect while female physicians in particular report work-life balance as a significant concern.

The “life” component can encompass wellness needs, social interactions, family life, and other pursuits as well as daily living activities. However, due to an increase in mobile technology and services that keep physicians connected to their practice, work-related tasks have begun to extend more into aspects of their personal lives and moments of free time. As the line between work and life continues to blur, healthcare professionals face a growing risk of increased burnout and other adverse physical and psychological outcomes.

The Pursuit of Work-Life Balance 

According to Dr. Arun Saini, assistant professor in the Division of Critical Care Medicine at the University of Tennessee, dissatisfaction, depression, and burnout are some of the most common reasons physicians seek a better work-life balance.

“Most millennial physicians are paying more importance to work-life balance after seeing the firsthand effect of burnout in their colleagues and among their family members. There is also a shift in the family dynamics of [the] millennial, as most families have both parents working and limited support from immediate family members. This has put additional pressure on their abilities to manage work-life balance,” Dr. Saini told Medical News Today.

Without adequate rest and recuperation from the demands of the workplace clinicians can experience burnout, which also negatively affects their clinical performance and the health outcomes of their patients.

A Counter Approach

However, other experts disagree by arguing that the pursuit of a work-life balance can actually worsen a physician’s quality of life. According to Dr. Andreas Schwingschackl, assistant pediatrics professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, the separation of work and life indicates conflict – that work is inherently “bad” and life is “good.” Instead of seeking a clear-cut distinction between a career and personal life, he recommends a different approach.

“Once I was able to integrate rather than separate all my daily activities [and] harmonize rather than divide my time, not only between work and life but also between clinical care and research, the pursuit of balance shifted from work-life to life-nature-universe. The result was an overwhelming daily feeling of ‘balance,’” he told Medical News Today.

Tips for Achieving Work-Life Balance

Several factors can be optimized to help physicians achieve a sense of balance between their work and personal lives.

Define Purpose

One important element needed to support balance is having a sense of purpose. Over time, physicians may lose passion for or satisfaction with their line of work making it especially important for them to incorporate more tasks that align with their initial motivation for pursuing medicine. This can include scheduling procedures they enjoy, working on patient cases they find interesting, and dedicating time to explore their passions in the field. “Finding meaning in your work should also take into account family needs and aligning your own needs with those of your organization,” experts highlight.

Manage Time With Intention 

Balancing work and life requires effective time management, which includes setting both long- and short-term goals, planning and organizing, and using time productively. Some strategies to manage time more efficiently can include preparing electronic health record templates, making checklists, outsourcing housework, and meal-prepping for the week ahead. Minimizing time wasted with effective scheduling and time management can allow healthcare professionals to maximize their free time to spend on personal priorities, family activities, and social interactions.

Prioritize What Matters

Another important technique for improving work-life balance is the identification of what is most important among your responsibilities and managing your time to prioritize it. For instance, if family life is your priority, you can adjust your schedule so that you maximize days with your family members and work a reduced number of hours. Evidence supports working fewer hours which is associated with a reduced risk of burnout; data from a Medscape report reveals that only 36% of those working between 31 and 40 hours a week reported burnout symptoms compared with 57% of those working over 71 hours. 

Set Boundaries

Due to the shift to telemedicine and increase in the use of mobile technologies, the clinic is no longer the only place one can reach physicians. As a result, the line between work and life is becoming even more blurred leading to the development of an “integrated lifestyle” in which both components are expected to exist simultaneously. However, this is rarely conducive to the separation of work matters from physicians’ personal lives making boundary setting especially pertinent. For example, physicians can designate working hours on their personal devices during which they can receive calls, emails, and other notifications; outside of these set times, they can mute work-related notifications or turn off their devices entirely.

As there is currently no set standard for an appropriate work-life balance equation, what constitutes this at times elusive concept depends entirely on personal needs, preferences, and priorities. Although, there are several methods for achieving a more harmonious balance between professional and personal lives.

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to take a huge toll on healthcare professionals, it is especially important for physicians to carve out time for rest and personal needs so as to avoid the possibility of burnout – a condition that not only has detrimental effects on their wellbeing, but also on that of their patients. Clinicians who feel overwhelmed can reach out to the national Physician Support Line which provides free and confidential support services.

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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 https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

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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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