By Shannon Bays-Crockett
When studying worrisome symptoms among physicians and mental health workers in the 1970s, Herbert Freudenberger, a German-American psychologist, coined the term burnout. HHS described professional burnout in 2017 as an occupational hazard that could lead to high-quality healthcare professionals leaving the practice of medicine. By 2017, physicians reporting frequent or constant feelings of burnout totaled 51 percent—up from 40 percent in 2013.
The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders reports that physician burnout is growing in the United States. One in three physicians experience physician burnout at some point in time. Compared to other professions, physicians are fifteen times more likely to experience burnout. About 45 percent of physicians report that they would quit the profession if it weren’t for the money. Approximately 400 physicians commit suicide each year. Those numbers emphasize the need to quickly address the burnout issue.
Physician burnout symptoms seem to mirror indications of other stress disorders, but there are also distinct differences. Dr. Dike Drummond, author of the blog The Happy MD, talks about physician burnout in his article “Physician Burnout and the Four Phases of Compassion Fatigue” (blog post #297) when he says, “Losing the ability to feel empathy, sympathy, and compassion for your patients is a constant risk for all of us.”
Physician burnout symptoms might include:
- Physical and emotional exhaustion that leaves physicians worn out and unable to recover during downtime
- The development of a cynical and negative attitude regarding work and patients
- A reduced sense of purpose along with a feeling that what they’re doing has little to no meaning or value
Ashley Altus, a writer for The DO, the online publication of the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), reported on Dr. Octavia Cannon’s talk to the January 25, 2018, AOA LEAD (Leadership, Education, Advocacy & Development) Conference in Austin, Texas. Dr. Cannon challenged physicians to instruct students and residents about the importance of life outside of medicine. “Encourage them to take time for themselves,” Dr. Cannon said.
Dr. Cannon continued to discuss how stress for young physicians is at its peak during training in medical school and residency, citing Medscape’s 2018 National Physician Burnout and Depression Report in which data suggested that 42 percent of physicians reported symptoms of burnout.
Addressing Physician Burnout
Imagine the pediatrician attending a daughter’s dance recital or a son’s football game when the phone rings. The caller is the worried parent of a child who is spiking a fever. The physician is torn away from the family activity to advise the child’s parent. The doctor becomes frustrated by missing his own child’s big moment in the spotlight and can’t get that back. Somebody loses out, and the choice between duty, frustration, and guilt is not an easy decision.
Healthcare Call Centers
One popular solution—after-hours telephone triage—works well to both address physician concerns and serve the needs of anxious patients. Nurse triage call centers help physicians achieve work/life balance by reducing or eliminating after-hours and on-call requirements by offering patients telephone access to advice that is based on guidelines established according to preferences of each provider’s practice. All patient calls are triaged using evidence-based guidelines and are directed to the appropriate level of care. All call records are forwarded directly to the patient’s care provider so they are available the next business day.
By partnering with accredited health call centers for after-hours telephone triage, providers can enjoy their professional as well as their private lives. Other benefits of after-hours nurse triage are reflected in improved physician recruitment and retention and a more satisfying patient/physician encounter when the physician is rested and refreshed.
Shannon Bays-Crockett is a strategic communications specialist with AccessNurse.