Research shows that 50% of physicians are suffering from burnout, and close to 100% have experienced some degree of burnout sometime during their career. Stop Physician Burnout is a great book in terms of prevention, but even those who have gone too far down the spiral and need professional help will find new habits to cultivate and maintain during the healing process.
After experiencing two episodes of burnout himself, Dr. Dike Drummond has spent thousands of hours helping hundreds of doctors. In Stop Physician Burnout, he elaborates on the causes, diagnosis, and pathophysiology of burnout, explaining in simple terms how to recognize it. Top
The selection process for medical school and the type of training we physicians receive as med students and during residency shapes us into perfectionists; the process is then reinforced continuously by the high expectations of patients and society. All these elements contribute to burnout, which appears as exhaustion, depersonalization (with lack of empathy), and low efficiency — all because our physical, emotional, and spiritual energy bank accounts are running a negative balance.
The book dives into treatment, starting with taking out the “head trash” that prevents us from even starting to heal. That “trash” is a set of five changes in awareness that must be addressed to enable the burnout prevention tools to work. For example, Drummond explains how to deal with the omni-present inner critic. Top
Another necessity is realizing that we are trained to approach everything as a problem that can be solved. Unfortunately, burnout is not a problem for which there is one solution; it is a dilemma and dilemmas are managed. This topic is difficult to grasp for “experts,” but Drummond deals with it, nicely and comprehensively.
After helping us develop a blueprint for our life, a vision of our future, Drummond elaborates extensively on a series of tools to prevent burnout. All are simple, some have been proven by research to be effective. He organizes them into a “burnout prevention matrix,” which has four categories: tools to decrease personal stress, tools for personal recharge, tools to decrease organizational stress, and tools to facilitate organizational recharge. Top
Most important, each tool is usable and understandable, not only for those who want to prevent burnout, but also for those who are already experiencing it. For example, the “squeegee breath,” a mindfulness tool, does not require much effort to use, and, most important for busy doctors, it doesn’t take much time. It has been tested in small groups, and preliminary evidence indicates that the stress level of those in the group decreased after eight weeks.
At the end of the book, Drummond presents a set of case reports with various scenarios. One drew my attention, because it dealt with changes and stresses around the time of retirement. Drummond provides some good insights that made me see how our lifestyle as physicians, over the decades from entering med school until retirement, has also skewed our thinking about retirement. Top
The Canadian health care system does little to keep doctors healthy and reduce work stresses. In the years ahead, the most successful health care organizations, in the context of succession planning and sustainability, will be those who take excellent care of their providers and staff. How do we expect physicians to become engaged in the transformation of the health care system, if they barely have enough energy to be experts and advocates for their patients.
Stop Physician Burnout is a good read and a useful handbook, not only for physicians, but also for those who live or work with them.
Note: Dr. Dike Drummond will be a keynote speaker at the 2017 Canadian Conference on Physician Leadership.
Johny Van Aerde, MD, MA, PhD, FRCPC, is past president of the Canadian Society of Physician Leaders and editor of the Canadian Journal of Physician Leadership.
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