As researchers investigate the causes and effects of physician burnout on both the practitioner and healthcare industry as a whole, one thing is clear: prevention remains the best deterrent to the skyrocketing rate of physician burnout. The factors leading to burnout are complex but are generally the result of high levels of chronic stress. The good news is that there are a number of methods to promote physician wellness and short-circuit burnout.
The widespread systematic adoption of needed burnout prevention and mitigation infrastructure will take time and likely be uneven initially. Burnout researchers recommend for practitioners to take burnout prevention into their own hands with methods of promoting personal wellness.
You may be familiar with some of these suggestions, as they reflect advice often given to patients but with unique benefits for practitioners who are eager to bring joy, purpose and fulfillment to their work.
Do Work-Life Better
The term “work-life balance” gets used a lot, but too often, it’s code for squeezing out more productivity and effort at both work and home. Those fighting to manage their time better to achieve work-life balance often neglect to add boundary-setting into the equation. Seeking balance shouldn’t just be another achievement or a struggle to devote equal time between work and play. It should also include the setting of personal and professional boundaries to boost the effects of activities that promote work-life balance.
Setting personal and professional boundaries is hard but key to avoiding the stressors that can lead to burnout later on. Even something as fundamental as giving up too much of yourself at work and home can become habit. You can practice setting boundaries by setting aside personal time, like for a vacation. To be clear, taking a vacation is not a treatment for burnout. However, vacations can be a key part of burnout prevention especially when done within the context of boundary setting.
Destination CME conferences are a vacation option. At first glance, this may surprise you, but studies confirm that not only are vacations good for stress reduction but so is the pursuit of new skills. Additionally, CME conferences make for great solo trips, helping to put distance between personal and professional stresses. They are also an opportunity to surround yourself with peers whom you can relate to. Connecting with colleagues can also help ease stress, especially outside the work environment.
Search for CME conferences that provide stress reduction and leadership development alongside medical curriculum for added benefits. Conferences with mornings-only itineraries make setting aside personal time easier by drawing a clear line between work and play. Make it a solo vacation, avoid strict leisure itineraries, and remember that it’s OK not to partake in every activity your peers suggest. Work with your employer to ensure your time off at the conference isn’t disrupted by work.
Practice Positive Psychology
Positive psychology is one of psychology’s newest areas of study and its principles are used to improve mental and emotional well-being, with an emphasis on what makes individuals happier. Practicing positive psychology in daily life is by no means a replacement for conventional professional psychological services, especially if you’re one of many doctors who experience the symptoms of a mental health condition at some point in their careers.
But lessons from positive psychology can be applied to provide stress support in a number of ways with concepts like fostering gratitude, building character, and embracing the traits and skills that make you unique. In simple terms, it is about accentuating the positive aspects of psychological well-being rather than targeting the painful ones. Some therapists and psychologists practice positive psychology, helping to apply its principles in a professional and sophisticated way.
Here are some ways you can apply the basic principles of positive psychology in your own life:
- Picture a positive future.
- Buy a gift for someone.
- Apply practical wisdom.
- Set realistic goals.
- Value your close relationships.
- Lean into your best character traits (and use them daily).
- Greet aging positively.
- Journal your thoughts throughout the day.
- Preserve daily rituals.
- Cultivate a healthier idea of happiness.
It is an exciting time in healthcare and, according to most predictions, a great deal of change is coming. Doctors will see their roles and responsibilities change in the era of AI technologies similar to ChatGPT. So far physicians have been slow to adopt these technologies. However, those that do make the most of tools like EHRs, patient portals, telemedicine and point-of-care diagnostics all have the potential to streamline care. Put simply, there are no bonus points for working harder unnecessarily. Working smarter by adopting technology in your practice can go a long way to ease clinical bottlenecks, make employee management easier and simplifying the diagnostic process.
It’s not just healthcare technology that’s changing. The healthcare industry is always in flux. Trends like value-based care are changing the incentive structure for healthcare organizations and the practitioners who make them work. While changes like these are welcome in some corners of medicine, they can be a burden, albeit temporarily, to practitioners who are forced to adapt. Luckily, practitioners are more interconnected than ever before and more easily able to share their experiences experimenting with new ways of working.