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How to Recognize and Address Physician Burnout at Your Health Center

Physician burnout is a real and predominant problem in American healthcare. In the past four years, physician burnout has increased by 25 percent. Today, physician burnout stands at 51%, which could negatively affect not only quality of life for our clinicians but the health outcomes for the patients they treat.

What are the signs of physician burnout to watch for and how can healthcare organizations mitigate the risk of this dangerous phenomenon?

Burnout and its Signs

Physician burnout is the outcome of chronic on-the-job stress. The symptoms of burnout include:

  • overwhelming exhaustion;
  • job detachment and cynicism; and
  • a lack of accomplishment and ineffectiveness.

These symptoms can lead to serious medical issues for a healthcare professional, including:

  • cardiovascular disease;
  • depression;
  • misuse of drugs or alcohol;
  • suicidal thoughts or behavior.

The signs of burnout can be spotted by the patients these struggling doctors are treating. One study suggested physician burnout has a negative effect on patient outcomes, with reduced patient satisfaction, an increase in patient safety incidents, outright medical mistakes and a general reduction in the quality of care.

The American Medical Association (AMA) lists seven early warning signs for the doctor at risk of burning out. Watch for the doctor who:

  • Works at a location with an exceptionally high amount of stress;
  • Has or appears to have a low-stress tolerance;
  • Does not agree with and is frustrated, by leadership and decision-making;
  • Serves as an emotional sounding board for patients;
  • Misses family events due to work commitments;
  • Lacks control over their free time and work schedule; and
  • Does not take care of their physical or mental health.

If your organization has a number of doctors at risk for burnout, how can you take steps now to protect them?

Protecting Doctors from Burnout

Healthcare organizations must address the potential for burnout before physicians exhibit the telltale signs of the disorder. While we know times are challenging for healthcare providers, there are steps an organization can take to lessen the burdens our doctor’s face.

The Mayo Clinic has developed some of the key steps healthcare organizations must take to protect vulnerable clinicians from burnout. They include the following:

  • Acknowledge and assess the problem by opening a dialogue about burnout, its effects, and how to prevent it.
  • Use leadership to promote organizational and individual health as an expected part of the culture.
  • Develop clear interventions to head off burnout; for example, supporting staff doctors with locum tenens or reducing the amount of required on-call.
  • Cultivate peer support and community within your organization.
  • Increase the number of rewards and incentives to recharge tired clinical teams.
  • Strengthen engagement by aligning and communicating organizational values.
  • Increase work-life balance and improve scheduling flexibility for doctors.
  • Promote self-care by providing additional resources to clinical staff.

Organizations seeking new strategies to improve physician work-life balance should consider staffing up with additional clinical support from UHC Solutions. Contact us today and reduce physician burnout in your organization. We are community healthcare recruiting specialists. We partner with community health centers to provide staffing support.


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