Urgent care physicians often live compact, unbalanced lives. They work in highly competitive and stressful markets where a single mistake can put patient lives and their own career in jeopardy. They attend a new breed of patient expecting to be seen in under 30 minutes as they juggle cases ranging from a simple cold to life-threatening cardio incidents. Such a job requires great empathy and compassion for humankind. Yet, many urgent care physicians fail to apply the same compassion and empathy towards themselves. The result? Physician burnout.
Emergency procedure for airline passengers is to secure their own mask before attempting to assist other passengers. Why? It’s impossible for a person to help anyone if they’re passed out, right? The same applies to burnout. Urgent care providers can’t help others if they’re so focused on others that they continually neglect themselves along the way.
Self-help gurus often describe burnout as a rundown battery, which isn’t an accurate metaphor. When a battery is at its end, it simply shuts off. There’s no more to get out of the battery. Meanwhile, urgent care physicians continue working no matter how cynical, unenthused, exhausted, stressed, and rundown they become. The leftovers are often even taken home for never-ending days and nights of work.
Many doctors operate on the theory that it’s all just a sacrifice for patient care; in reality, it’s actually sacrificing patient care because burnout impacts everything from work performance to patient and coworker engagement. In the long run, such a doctor often becomes highly defensive and more prone to criticizing and blaming themselves and others.
According to the The American Journal of Medicine, it’s this type of work ethic and unhealthy work-life balance that’s caused an increased trend toward physician burnout over the past few years. The study showed that physician burnout increased nine percent in a three year period, and physicians reporting a healthy work-life balance dropped from 48.5 percent to just 40.9 percent.
The study also underscored electronic health records (EHRs) as the most likely contributor to the rise in physician burnout and unhealthy work-life balance. Why? Doctors spend more time with records than with patients, which transitions the doctor-patient relationship into a doctor-computer relationship.
Several reports presented by Healthcare IT News backup the study’s assertion that electronic health record systems are negatively changing a doctor’s ability to doctor and prohibiting them from experiencing the most rewarding and satisfying aspects of their jobs.
Between countless office and home hours babysitting records, the counterpart pull of unsatisfied and angry patients wanting doctors to get their heads out of records, and the stressful nature of the environment itself, it’s no wonder that doctor burnout is on the rise.
Luckily, the solution to burnout is often a simple one involving learning and practicing self-compassion. Cultivating empathy for oneself leads to a plethora of positive decisions, including a more positive mindset, authenticity, stress reduction, and personal wellness.
Self-compassion offers recognition that failures and shortcomings are a shared human experience requiring reflection, not consumption. It’s a powerful tool to alleviate stress and help create realistic and actionable goals. Through self-examination, a firm balance between complacency and confidence, defeatism and determination, and work and life can be made.
Authenticity to one’s own character also derives from having empathy toward oneself, and it better enables empathy toward others. After all, how can a doctor put himself in someone else’s shoes and provide sincere feedback and advice if he/she can’t offer themselves the same perspective.
In conclusion, provider burnout is a real possibility for all medical professionals. While it’s a profession that requires thick skin, professional satisfaction and success ultimately hinge on the ability to show compassion for oneself. Happy doctor, happy life.