3 Practices to Beat Doctor Burnout

Beat Doctor Burnout

It makes me crazy when I hear things like, “Doctors are to blame for burnout. They need to just be tougher.”

Are people really serious?

This is like comparing us to people who are eating super-sized fast food meals daily, while complaining about their jeans being too tight. Uhm, not the same.

Some will say that burnout is a given and just goes with the territory.

Many debate whether this is something that needs to be addressed on a personal level or from an organizational perspective.

My colleague Diane Shannon in her recent KevinMD.com blog has a good point, when she says we have to find the root cause.

Here are the top 3 reasons why motivation fails when it comes to beating doctor burnout:

1) Instant gratification isn’t enough. When our patients do well after surgery or the medication we prescribed clears their infection — yes, it’s rewarding. And we’re super happy when we have that feeling of satisfaction – if we have time to come up for air. Just like our hearts are warmed when we make great doctor-patient connections, despite our crazy-busy schedules.

But it’s tough to ditch the day-to-day grind of EMR, ICD-10s and the rest of the alphabet soup, none of which fits into that “instant gratification” box.

2) We lose steam when we encounter enough speed bumps. It starts with being told that we need to see twice as many patients in half the time to cover overhead. Then insurance denies our claims for serious surgeries and we spend part of our clinic time fighting with someone who has no idea what we’re talking about.

Keep yanking our chain and we want to throw in the towel, despite our dedication. Our mojo starts slipping away.

3) Shouldn’t we feel motivated to meet any challenge? Hell to the no. Let’s say we have a patient or a diagnosis that is well beyond our scope. They are either too demanding (don’t you love it when a non-medical person starts drawing the way they want you to do their surgery?), the problem is too complicated, or a myriad of other reasons.

We decide to reach out for help and send the patient elsewhere for the best possible patient outcome. And then we hear from our CEO that we are not being “team players.” We’re wimps. We’re “quitters.” Do they really expect us to feel motivated and challenged — in a good way? Our reaction can be to beat ourselves up. To tell ourselves, we’re not good enough.

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Here are the top 3 reasons why motivation fails when it comes to beating doctor burnout.

How to jump out of this negativity vortex?

Here are 3 ways to beat doctor burnout the right way:

beating doctor burnout

✓ Remember your mission. Why did you go into medicine? Aim to capture a piece of that every day.

✓ Raise your hand. You may need to reach out to colleagues for assistance or hire a coach.  Having someone in your corner who can be your mirror and remind you of your best self can mean everything.

✓ Bring in gratitude. Whenever I feel overwhelmed, under-appreciated, or just plain blue, I remind myself of how truly lucky I am. I am able to help people in a meaningful way, and impact others by my positive actions. And that, just that, is worth everything.


What’s your take on this? Do you think doctor burnout is:

a. Just part of what we signed up for when we got our medical degrees
b. An issue to be dealt with on an organizational level
c. Something we can fix on a personal level by learning how to shift our mindsets to create our own work-life balance and sense of fulfillment?



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6 thoughts on “3 Practices to Beat Doctor Burnout

  1. Jane Zendarski

    It’s b. And c. The administrative burden is too much. Some time ago, my father’s employed orthopedic surgeon confided to my brother how overworked he was. My brother told him, “doc, you got more power than you think. You are the income generator. Tell the administrator you’ll stop working until you can a sane schedule. Tell the administrators to bring donuts to the lobby so we can all discuss this. There is only so much deep breathing and resilience training you can take. It’s like the tech manufacturing company FoxCon in China putting nets along side the building to catch the folks attempting suicide due to the terrible working conditions.

    1. Starla Fitch, M.D. Post author

      Great comments, Jane Zendarski. I agree that it’s a combination of knowing what we can change ourselves, on a daily/weekly level and then being clear in our needs (not wants!) with those in the administrative roles. Blessings, friend.

  2. Deb

    Docs aren’t the only ones who get burnout. As a Dietitian working with pts who have eating disorders it can be defeating… I have a good Spiritual basis for dily life but some days really are hared than others. Thanks for addressing the topic…doctors aren’t alone 🙂

    1. Starla Fitch, M.D. Post author

      Deb, thanks for sharing. You are exactly right — everyone on the healthcare team is at risk for burnout. And that puts our patients at risk, too. We’re all in this together, my friend. Blessings to you.

  3. Scott

    It’s real!! I took a year off as an emergency department physician assistant because of burnout! It’s like a deep depression! I’m going back in now with eyes wide open and learning to meditate and let the rest take care of itself.

    1. Starla Fitch, M.D. Post author

      Scott, thank you for saying what we all know is true – burnout happens. And it stinks. I’ve been there, too, my friend. It can sneak up on you and take you down if you’re not careful. Meditating every day keeps me above water, for sure. And sharing with each other what works and doesn’t work helps, too. Big hugs to you and kudos for your honesty and bravery!


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