Physician burnout - A new public health crisis?
Working everyday in a fast paced, high stress, high commitment, and intense environment will leave its mark on any individual, especially physicians. It can even be the cause of physician burnout, which is a long-term reaction to stress caused by both emotional and physical exhaustion, a lack of sense of accomplishment in professional and personal life, as well as depersonalization.
If we compare the estimated risk of burnout for physicians to other professions, physicians’ risk of burnout and work-life dissatisfaction are twice as high, after considering controlling factors like level of education and work hours. A few years ago, burnout was once thought to be more of a late-career phenomenon. Recent studies show that younger physicians, as early as residents, experience more stress and are more at risk than older physicians, well established in the profession.
There are three main causes of stress and burnout for physicians and other clinicians: Work factors, organizational factors, and personal characteristics.
The consequences of physician burnout aren’t specific to the individual; they also have great influence over the quality of the care provided to patients. The healthcare system mandates doctors to keep track of their interactions with patients along with administrative and clerical responsibilities. Many aren’t trained in this area, which may shift their time allocation to these duties instead of patient care, causing greater stress. Burnout can also instigate a negative behavior towards patients, such as experiencing depersonalization ( feeling detached from contact with the patient), and being rude, dismissive, and even cynical.
So, what can be done? First off, the stigmatisation around physicians’ mental health needs to be abolished. About half of physicians consider their mental health to be a taboo, and two thirds would never consider seeking help from a mental health professional (Hunter, 2019). A Harvard paper (T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 2019) described the physician burnout phenomenon as a “public health crisis that urgently demands action.” Doctors have a real chance to challenge this toxic culture in medicine in order to decrease the risk of burnout.
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