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How To Avoid The Corrosive Effects Of Physician Burnout

Published on June 24, 2016

Burnout, which is often described in terms of the experience of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and lost sense of personal accomplishment, is a big and growing problem for physicians and for their patients—with lower quality of patient care where professional burnout rates are higher.

The practice of medicine is hard, stressful and demanding work, but burnout reflects an inability to recover drive and energy during time away from work or to draw upon a healthy work-life balance. Social psychologist Christina Maslach, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of California-Berkeley, who developed the Maslach Burnout Inventory in the 1970s, defined it as “an erosion of the soul caused by a deterioration of one’s values, dignity, spirit and will.”

 Further reading: Physician wellness is a quality indicator worth measuring

 Burnout is also associated with broken relationships, problematic alcohol use and suicidal ideation.

Tait Shanafelt, MD, a hematologist and researcher in physician well-being at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, and colleagues recently compared changes in burnout and work-life balance rates between 2011 and 2014.

Of 6,680 surveyed physicians, 54.4% reported at least one symptom of burnout in 2014, up from 45.5% three years before. Higher rates were reported for frontline physicians in primary care, family medicine, emergency medicine and hospital medicine.

“Burnout is now exceedingly common for physicians,” notes Mark Linzer, MD, director of the division of general internal medicine at Hennepin County Medical Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

By Larry Beresford

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