How Just One Word Can Help Doctor Burnout

As the New Year approaches, we all look at ways to make our lives better. In the overachieving world of medicine, this happens across the board. We try to figure out how we can help reduce our doctor burnout. We strive to make our offices, our hospitals, our surgery centers better, more efficient, more productive.

We make lists and analyze what went right and what went wrong this year.

We make lists of how to fix the broken parts, tweak the working parts, invent the new “bright shiny object” parts. We think if we can fix the broken parts, we’ll have a handle on helping fix doctor burnout.

Naturally, this doesn’t only happen in our working world.

We bring it home with us. We ask our spouses, our children, our friends to make New Year’s resolutions so we can all reach that pinnacle of awesomeness.

This can prove to be a big mistake. Because when we do that, guess what happens?

We set ourselves up for a fall. We try to bite off more than we can chew.

We want to lose twenty pounds. Jog two miles every evening. Eat five vegetables every day.

No wonder the gym is packed the first few weeks of January.

And then what happens?

Real life gets in the way.

And doctor burnout can grow.

We may experience not only doctor burnout but everyday, old fashioned run-of-the-mill burnout.

We realize that we can’t possibly do all the items on our list. We can’t transform into the ideal person with the ideal family in the ideal work environment overnight. Or even in the next six months.

So one by one, our good intentions go by the wayside.

It starts with a couple cookies. Then, we add ice cream to go with the cookies.

Before long, we don’t have a clue where our running shoes are, let alone how long it’s been since we’ve seen them.

Our office is back to its chaotic self.

Our staff isn’t living up to the great expectations, either.

The new resolutions for how the hospital will be more efficient and productive? You guessed it. Out the window.

We get deeper and deeper into the doctor burnout vortex.

How can we guide ourselves gently out of doctor burnout without sliding down the rabbit hole of despair?

First, we need to focus on our goals and behavior. And recognize that it doesn’t help to be governed by reactions or feedback from others.

And we need to be honest with ourselves. Aiming for perfection just leads to more tendency for doctor burnout.

And now are you ready for the real secret?

Pick just one word.

A few years ago, my business coach Christine Kane told me to pick a Word of the Year. Not a long list. Not a litany. Just one word.

That word serves as a beacon. A talisman. A guidepost to get through the whole twelve months.

Slow and steady wins the race.

Over the years, I’ve embraced my Word of the Year with eagerness. I’ve chosen Patience. Resilience. Faith.

The year I established, my word was BOLD.

The year I published Remedy for Burnout; my word was INSPIRE.

This year, my word is RECEIVE.

Receive the wisdom that is in my heart. Receive the concerns of my colleagues in this wacky world of ours and turn those doctor burnout concerns into guiding answers. Receive the gift that has been placed upon my shoulders to help health professionals keep doing what they do, day after day, with honor and love.

What will your Word of the Year be?

I’d love for you to share it in the comments below.




CATEGORIES: Blog on December 30, 2014 by Starla Fitch, M.D.

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4 thoughts on “How Just One Word Can Help Doctor Burnout

  1. Theresa Mutzig-Erwin

    This is my 9th year of using a “word of the year”. Last year was “Focus.” This year, I’m going with “Do”.

    I enjoyed the article.

    1. Starla Fitch, M.D. Post author

      Theresa, I love that you have been practicing “word of the year” for nine years! And I notice your words are so action oriented. Fantastic! I hope some of the “Do” things on your list is to take care of yourself. Thanks for joining in the conversation! 🙂

  2. Pam Pappas MD

    Hi Starla —

    Thanks for the helpful article. I’ve been working with “possibility” since January. Lots has come up so far — not all of it pleasant, but mostly growth-promoting. (You know those opportunities for growth!)

    Keep on writing — we love you!

    1. Starla Fitch, M.D. Post author


      Thanks for your note. I love the word “possibility.” Sometimes it stretches us in directions we may not have anticipated. Please give us an update in November and let us know how all those “possibilities” worked out this year, my friend. Blessings.


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