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5 Helpful Strategies for Preventing Physician Burnout

You know it. Everyone knows it. Even if you absolutely love your profession, there’s no denying that being a physician can be one of the most stressful jobs in the world. Nearly 90 percent of physicians admit to feeling stressed throughout the day, and another 54 percent admit to exhibiting at least one symptom of burnout.

With these statistics in mind, it’s vital that you develop a routine that can counteract the pressure and anxiety that come with great responsibility. Try these five strategies to avoid burnout, so your job doesn’t go from from something you love to something you dread.

1. Take Your Own Healthful Advice

What’s the number 1 recommendation that you give to a patient suffering from stress? Learn to take better care of yourself. That includes common sense measures such as eating well, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly.

The question is, are you following this wise prescription?

According to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, less than 5 percent of adults in America get at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day. As a doctor, you can’t help your patients if you can’t first help yourself. A physician in prime physical health and well-rested is far less likely to give in to the challenges of a bad day or to a patient who is being difficult or hard to please.

2. Set Healthy Boundaries

Behavioral boundaries let other people know what words and actions will and won’t be tolerated. They protect both the doctor who sets them and anyone who might otherwise be tempted to violate them.

As a physician, an example of setting a healthy boundaries is refusing to spread yourself too thin by giving in to too many demands. It could mean referring patients to colleagues when your caseload is full, or taking a step back from the exorbitant hours you typically work. It could mean enjoying a relaxing day off here and there. It means taking an assertive stance with a hard-to-please patient and refusing to cave into unreasonable requests.

3. Resist the Urge to Internalize

It’s your responsibility to treat difficult patients to the best of your ability without letting them rattle you or allowing your work to suffer.

Resist the urge to internalize any harsh treatment you may receive at the hands of an abusive patient. Keep in mind there are other patients waiting who need you at your best. Try a stillness practice such as meditation. Take up yoga. Whip up a raw-fruit smoothie. Do whatever you need to do to de-stress through your day so you’re able to keep performing at optimum levels, so that you continue to love your job. Don’t let one (or even 10) bad patient interactions sour you on your profession.

4. Adapt Your Approach

In the now-famous words of Dr. William Osler, the first Physician in Chief at Johns Hopkins and a recognized expert on bedside manner, “It’s much more important to know what sort of patient has a disease than to know what kind of a disease a patient has.” Dr. Osler understood that, in order to do the best job in treating a patient, a physician must understand his patient’s personality.

The same holds true today. When you find yourself stuck in a roundabout with a difficult patient, and feel the stress building, consider changing your approach. Listen and connect with the patient. Not all patients are created equal, and while an underlying cause could be to blame for a difficulty, it could also be your own handling technique. That’s something you can change.

5. Accept Your Limitations

We all have limitations. For example, one can’t function maximally when sleep-deprived for days on end. No doc, no matter how righteous the effort, can physically do the work of five people. Nor can you avoid negative people entirely.

You’re going to have bad days and even encounters that shake you to your core. It’s important to remember that the only part of your work experience you can control is your reaction to it. And then do your best to move on.

Dr. Mamta Gautam, writing for the American Medical Association, recommends recognizing what you can and can’t control in any given situation. We focus on controlling and changing things around us,” he says, “and from that perspective, appropriately, we feel we have no control. The only factor we control is us — our thoughts, feelings, expectations, behaviors, strengths and weaknesses. We must learn to identify what part of the situation is under our control, and focus on that.”

Embrace your humanness — your frailty, missteps and limitations included. Resist the urge to beat yourself up; despite what you may wish, you’re not made of steel. Realizing that you’re human and fallible is a good way to lower stress and function better.

As a physician, you deal daily with people and situations that could very well debilitate or destroy others. Admit to yourself that giving your all should be good enough, and then go forward from there. Acting from this place in one moment puts you in the best place for doing well in the next.

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