Take a stand

Another way to reduce burnout is to improve your work environment. Richard Gunderman, MD, PhD, of Indiana University in Indianapolis, said one of the major catalysts for burnout is the push for increased productivity in the office.

“The rationale behind such pressures may be strong from a business perspective,” he said. “But doctors may feel that threatens the quality of care and, even more fundamentally, prevents them from forming the relationships they aspire to with patients and families.”

As best they can, Dr. Gunderman said, physicians should work together to practice the type of medicine that they, their patients, and the community think is best. “Each physician has to be an effective advocate of what good medical care looks like and exercise their medical authority to pursue that kind of model,” he said.


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Find support

“I think physicians are encouraged to ‘grin and bear it’ from med school on,” Ferron said. “But when the pain gets great enough, it does lead people to reach out.”

For more than 30 years, William Zeckhausen has provided this kind of haven for physicians.

Zeckhausen, a pastoral counselor in Gilford, NH, offers a weekly support group for physicians in his area. Pastoral counselors are required to go to counseling and it makes sense that physicians should as well.

The kinds of issues that are brought up in his group are threefold: professional, personal and “here and now” challenges. An example of a common problem he has helped physicians work through is dealing with patients’ deaths.

One doctor was avoiding patients who were near death because he felt guilty he was unable to cure them. When he knew he was going to have to see the patient, he asked what he should do. Zeckhausen told the physician to just tell his patient how he felt. Afterward, the physician did not feel guilt like he normally did. He connected meaningfully with the patient. At the funeral, he was embraced by the family.

“I don’t know how other physicians would make it without this kind of group,” he said. “Many say finding the support is like having been in a desert and finally finding water.”

Just be good enough

The final tip to reduce burnout is to understand and accept that healthcare is changing. “Physicians have to realize they can’t practice like they did in the past,” Ferron said. “And working harder and sacrificing more only leads to burnout and less effectiveness.”

You have to figure out how to work smarter, not harder. If they have only 15 minutes with a patient, they should find a way to make those the most effective 15 minutes possible. Be efficient and effective. Help patients manage their expectations and understand what they should be getting from their time with you.

“Current conditions don’t allow for perfection, so how do you do it good enough?” she said. “People need to learn to set limits and boundaries to increase effectiveness.”