The Antidote to Professional Burnout

by | Jun 18, 2022

Are you experiencing burnout in your professional career? It’s okay, you can admit it. You’re not alone. In fact, studies have found that approximately 50 percent of physicians are suffering from burnout.

Twelve billion dollars. That’s a conservative estimate of the cost incurred to the health care system due to turnover produced by burnout. And this is just for physicians! All those in the health care profession, including independent ODs, can experience periods of stress and burnout related to their career.

The Effects of Burnout and Strategies to Reduce It

Despite your best attempts to put on a good face, it’s unlikely this goes unnoticed by your patients. Stress and anxiety eventually rear their heads in noticeable ways. This isn’t good for you or your patients. In fact, research from the Mayo Clinic demonstrates that burned out physicians have two times higher odds of making medical errors—a leading cause of death in the United States.

Researchers have explored strategies to reduce stress for physicians. Much of the early research focused on what would be categorized as “escapism.” This involved getting away from patient care as much as possible and pursuing more exercise, nature hikes, and meditation. See fewer patients or take more time off.

Does this reduce burnout? Yes, but the effects are only modest at best.

What had a more profound effect on reducing burnout was not getting away from patient care, but changing how patient care was provided. It turns out that physicians least likely to experience burnout are those that experience higher levels of meaningful connection with their patients. They are not less busy; they are more fulfilled.

Counteract Burnout with Human Connection

Things like exercise, good sleep, and work-life balance are very important, but they tend to be self-focused. It turns out that focusing on others is often a more effective antidote to feeling burned out.

So how do you apply this in your practice? There’s no magic formula here. Just spend more time making a human connection with your patients. Lean in. Make eye contact. Get to know them as people. Ask questions about their lives, work, families, and hobbies. Physicians that did this intentionally, even for just a few weeks, reported that the fog of burnout began to lift. For many it was transformational.

The solution was more human connection, not less.

To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”

By Steve Vargo, OD

Exploring best practices in building and sustaining practice growth.

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