Burnout Shouldn’t Be Dismissed

There is a prevalence in professions of all kinds to dismiss the youngsters and the new kids as newbies, wimps, and inexperienced whiners.  Partly it’s the generation gap, the inability of two different age groups to look eye-to-eye after having lived through different eras at different times in their lives.  But while older doctors tend to look at burnout as a thing that happens to interns and residents, the term has been around for decades and older doctors are, if anything, more likely to suffer burnout than young doctors who have recently survived their residency.

Burnout is a condition that causes medical professionals to stop caring about their jobs and their patients, and that’s a serious problem for an industry where caring about others is one of the primary reasons why anyone becomes a doctor or nurse in the first place.  Symptoms of burnout include:

  • Health issues
  • High stress
  • Depression
  • Alcoholism and drug use
  • Job dissatisfaction
  • Medical errors, both minor and serious
  • And a much higher suicide rate than the overall population

Professional burnout isn’t a generational problem, and it isn’t a residency problem.  It can and does affect every kind of medical professional, and it affects the wellbeing of those whose lives are in their hands.  Burnout leads all too many doctors and nurses to leave their profession every year, one way or another, and this in turn means that underserved communities like small towns and rural areas are getting even less of the medical attention they need.

And there are ways to address burnout if we’re willing to first acknowledge it.  For instance, the Mayo Clinic recently published a study which linked electronic recordkeeping with doctor dissatisfaction and high burnout rates.  The problem isn’t the electronic format itself, but rather the time spent:  no doctor ever went into medical school out of a love of paperwork, and when the job becomes writing detailed reports instead of helping people, it’s no wonder so many physicians stop caring.

Fortunately, the solution to this particular factor has an easy remedy.  Scribe services, such as ProScribe, can place medical administrative assistants at clinics and hospitals.  These assistants don’t have medical degrees and don’t diagnose patients, but they can help those who do by managing schedules, filing paperwork, sending for and retrieving test results, fielding phone calls, and otherwise handling all the busywork that defines the modern medical profession.

Medical scribes are much less likely to burn out since paperwork is in fact what they’re signing up for, and their services pay for themselves both because they allow physicians and nurses to put more effort into their work and also because it frees up time they can spend with additional patients.

So before you next insist that a patient should lose weight to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes, you should take a moment to address the problem of professional burnout within your own workplace.  Or in other words, “Physician, heal thyself.”