Managing and Preventing Physician Burnout

Preventing burnout is a very important aspect of one’s professional life. As you begin your career, consider not only what you want now but also what you want 10, 20, 30 years into your profession. While this “peering into the future” consideration is not completely accurate, you should be honest with yourself about who you are and what you want now and in the future.

Second, again at the start of your career, prepare yourself for your profession and area of medicine. Complete your training in that area, or those areas, of medicine so that you can become and remain board certified. American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) specialization is the way to achieve and maintain board certification in your specialty, ensuring appropriate training and experience. It also allows flexibility in your job search and provides some degree of security in your position.
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Third, pace yourself. A full and robust medical career is not a sprint but a marathon. You must complete your various job responsibilities correctly and in an appropriate time period, yet you do not need to attend every nonmandatory event, lecture, session, assembly, etc. Time for yourself and for your family and friends is also important. You can prevent “burnout” by achieving balance in your job. Work hard and live well in a balanced fashion.

Other considerations in burnout prevention include finding your professional niche—an area of medicine that you can explore in detail and be the “expert” in, whether it is in your practice, your town or city, your region, the country, or the world.

Furthermore, realize that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. If there are issues with your job that require improvement, work collectively and collegially to improve matters, and do not simply complain about them. Moving from one job to the next, looking for the “greener grass,” is not the most appropriate approach.

At times, however, making a job change is required; when needed, do so, appropriately, professionally, and collegially—do not “burn your bridges behind you.”  You must be cautioned, however, that the search for greener grass is not always entirely successful. The greener grass on the other side of the fence frequently contains crab grass and other unpleasant things that one may step in “when you jump over the fence.”

The prevention of burnout in your team is best achieved in several different ways, all applied throughout the year. Lead by example. Using the tools described above will show your team what is expected, how it can be accomplished, and the positive results.

Furthermore, provide mentorship and opportunity for your team members. Allowing and assisting people to grow and mature in the specialty is important—it is our future. Lastly, avoid the “silver platter” approach to mentoring and teaching. Instead, provide the knowledge, create the environment, and make the resources available. Expect your team to work for the goals. When attained, the goal is that much more rewarding.

William Brady, MD, is Professor of Emergency Medicine & The David A Harrison Distinguished Educator​ at the University of Virginia Health System.