Stress is a part of everyone's daily life, especially physicians. When managed well, stress can be a powerful driving force to accomplish great things. Even when we're overstressed, decompressing isn’t incredibly difficult, and we can usually bounce back quickly.
Burnout, on the other hand, is stress to a high degree that is neither resolved nor addressed and it can cause a host of other problems, including but not limited to:
- High levels of job dissatisfaction
- Weight loss or gain
- Poor immune health
- Declining health in general
- Depression and/or anxiety
While stress can be mitigated with exercise, leisure, and other relaxing activities, burnout is a serious concern and must be addressed. Let's look at how physician stress and burnout leads to physical and mental problems, and where you can head it off before it happens.
Primary Causes of Physician Stress
Life, in general, can be stressful—from finances to family, work, and even a rough golf game, everything can be stressful to some degree. Normally we deal with stress and move on, but repeated, impactful, and constricting sources of stress can quickly lead to burnout.
For instance, being short-staffed in your office can be stressful. You might find yourself doing more of the day-to-day operations work of your practice. If you're already putting in a full week seeing patients, this can make it hard to find the time to sufficiently unwind.
If you're doing the administrative work, hiring a new physician, or otherwise doing non-doctoral work, this piles on. Just the act of switching between office work and medical practice is taxing on the brain and this leads to stress. Simply not having a well-structured office can have a huge impact on the efficacy of your practice, and then on you as the doctor.
A doctor experiencing burnout will make more mistakes, distance themselves from their patients, and in general provide a lower standard of care while suffering on a daily basis themselves.
Prolonged stress can cause physical symptoms that most people would see their doctor about. These might include high blood pressure, overeating (or undereating), difficulty concentrating, irritability, and other cognitive symptoms. Normally these will go away if the source of the stress is dealt with, and are usually temporary.
This is the main difference between stress and burnout - stress is related most often to a specific cause. Burnout is a condition of a tremendous amount of prolonged stress and dissatisfaction all weighing on you over a period of time. For many people, the pandemic was a huge source of burnout as doctors felt like they had less control than ever.
When Stress Becomes Burnout
Stress turns into burnout in a few different ways. Primarily when stressors are ignored or pushed to the background, burnout creeps in. Causes of burnout include:
- The prolonged stress of working in the medical field. Especially with COVID-19 and the loss and long-term suffering patients have gone through, medicine is an extremely taxing profession mentally and physically.
- Overwork is another factor of stress-to-burnout progression. Many doctors are seeing more patients than ever, and if you're doing a lot of your office's administrative work, that's a recipe for disaster.
- Certain specialties like nephrology are more prone to burnout than others. This is also true of high-stress areas of work, like trauma, and unorthodox work schedules, like overnights in an ER.
- One particular place where stress evolves into burnout is poor work/life balance. When the stress of your job or home bleeds into the other, it can make both aspects of your life untenable. As the stress from one infects the other, it grows rampant in both and quickly overwhelms your entire sense of self.
One thing to be aware of is turning to prescriptions, alcohol, or other substances to deal with stress. While these offer a temporary reprieve, in the long run, they make stress worse. The poor health outcomes associated with them make the progression to burnout faster and the symptoms worse.
Dealing with Stress Before it Becomes Burnout
The first thing you need to do is step back and evaluate your mental and physical health. This might be easiest to do with another person, like a family member or a close friend. If you feel you're burnt out or nearing it, this can be hugely beneficial in preventing further progression.
Once you've identified the causes of stress and burnout, how can you address them in a healthy way?
- Improving your health through diet and exercise is critical to reducing factors that contribute to burnout. A diet rich in whole foods and 30 minutes of exercise a day can dramatically reduce stress markers.
- Finding ways to reduce your workload in your office is also instrumental in stress reduction. This can be hiring more employees, getting another physician on staff, or improving your workflow.
- Partnering with a platform like ViTel can make patient interaction and billing easier and less stressful while assisting with other aspects of your practice.
ViTel has established AI patient intake that improves doctor and patient experiences by reducing wait times and making diagnosis cleaner and faster. We can help with physician credentialing, medical supply orders, referrals, billing, hiring, and administrative duties. Contact us today for a free demo that can help take the weight of non-medical duties off your shoulders, reducing stress and pushing you away from burnout.
Preventing the negative repercussions associated with physician burnout starts with seeking help. Do not be afraid to find ways to reduce your stress and take back your life. It will not only improve your health and happiness, but that of your patients as well.