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Five Common Physician Burnout Symptoms and Solutions

Over the course of the pandemic, employee burnout became a common hurdle for organizations everywhere. For physicians, clinicians, and healthcare workers of all kinds, the pandemic was even more demanding, and burnout has become a huge challenge for healthcare organizations as a result.

While burnout in any industry leads to increased turnover rates and decreases in productivity, the consequences are much more severe in the healthcare field. Identifying burnout before it takes its toll is essential to the success of healthcare professionals and organizations, especially as they continue to face the challenges of an ongoing public health crisis.

In this blog, we’ll cover some of the most common physician burnout symptoms, what causes physician burnout and clinician burnout, why it must be addressed, and solutions to help mitigate clinician and physician burnout in your organization.

What Causes Physician Burnout?

First, let’s give burnout a definition: burnout refers to the mental and physical exhaustion that eventually leads to a loss of motivation, satisfaction, or sense of purpose in a person’s role. Essentially, it’s the end-result when work-related stress hasn’t been dealt with.

Some of the most common causes of clinician and physician burnout are things like:

  • Intense levels of activity: Some healthcare professionals experienced this early in the pandemic when hospitals were inundated with patients, and the increased workloads and long hours eventually overwhelmed staff.
  • Feeling helpless: Many physicians, nurses, and physician assistants may feel like they have no control in what they’re doing. Their schedule and patient assignments may have been increased without any additional support, which can quickly wear them down.
  • Social and emotional exhaustion: When the daily reality of a healthcare professional’s work becomes so draining that they have no energy left for their friends and family, feelings of dissatisfaction and cynicism toward their work can begin to set in.

Five Common Physician Burnout Symptoms

The symptoms of burnout in the healthcare setting can be emotional and physical, and can also manifest in the actions a person takes. Common burnout symptoms include:

  1. Physical exhaustion: It’s no surprise that when work is as unrelenting as a physician’s, nurse’s, or physician assistant’s is, it can lead to physical exhaustion. When this happens day after day, it may leave a person with a weary feeling they can’t shake, regardless of how rested they are.
  2. Lack of interest or motivation: If your physicians or nurses seem lethargic, or lack the enthusiasm they typically display, it may be a sign of burnout.
  3. Feeling like a failure: When clinicians are surrounded by patients who are going through challenging experiences, they may begin to feel like they can never do enough, or that their work isn’t making a difference.
  4. Self isolation: When it takes every last drop of a healthcare professional’s energy to make it through a day of work, physicians, nurses, and their counterparts may not have anything left in the tank for socializing with family or friends, and withdraw instead. Continually withdrawing can increase some of the symptoms of burnout and depression.
  5. Insomnia: If a physician’s thoughts are being invaded by work-related manners in every spare moment, it can lead to an inability to sleep or get quality rest.

The Cost of Failing to Recognize Physician Burnout Symptoms

The healthcare industry faces these same challenges as any industry when it comes to burnout, but the consequences are much more severe.

Recognizing clinician burnout is the first step to protecting your staff, your patients, and your organization. In fact, the healthcare industry simply can’t afford to ignore burned-out nurses, physicians, or physician assistants:

First, burnout can lead to medical errors and worse patient outcomes. Medical errors are one of the most costly threats to healthcare organizations, and when physicians, nurses, and other healthcare workers are so emotionally and physically taxed by their daily work, the risks to patients and organizations are greater.

Secondly, turnover costs are massive for healthcare organizations. The cost of replacing a physician who leaves an organization can be as high as $1 million when accounting for the cost of recruitment, advertisements, training, and lost revenue due to the departure.

Preventing Burnout in Healthcare Organizations

Preventing burnout is essential to the success of healthcare professionals and organizations. Not only can the quality of care suffer if burnout goes on without being addressed, but physicians, nurses, physician assistants, and staff of all levels may reach a breaking point and choose to leave their role— as many as half considered leaving their roles prior to COVID-19. So how can physicians, nurses, and healthcare organizations combat burnout? Consider these solutions:

  • Focus on Communication: Communication is essential for any organization’s success. When it comes to healthcare professionals and organizations dealing with burnout, it’s even more crucial.
    • Physicians, nurses, and physician assistants should have conversations with their supervisors about their workloads and whether they’re being stretched beyond what they can confidently handle.
    • Healthcare professionals should share how they’re doing with colleagues and peers who may be going through the same challenges. Doing so can create a feeling of solidarity.
  • Set Boundaries: Setting and communicating boundaries can help distinguish between work and life, providing healthcare workers the ability to relax when they go home.
    • Physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals who limit the amount of time they spend checking their email while away from work, or doing work-related things like reading medical publications, may feel less consumed by their work.
  • Keep Learning: Learning can increase job satisfaction, overall happiness, and remind healthcare professionals why they do what they do.
    • Continuing medical education conferences can be a great opportunity for healthcare professionals to stay up to date on an evolving industry, improve quality, experience personal and professional growth, while also enjoying a break from their day-to-day work.

Relax and Learn at Continuing Education Company’s CME Conferences

Physicians, nurses, physician assistants, and healthcare professionals of all kinds are essential to the wellbeing of people everywhere, but if they’re burned out, we all lose.

The Continuing Education Company’s ACCME-accredited continuing medical education conferences are held at scenic, family-friendly locations across the country, offering spectacular opportunities for medical professionals to take a break from their daily work, improve their skills and knowledge, and relax with their families.

If your organization’s physicians, nurses, or physician assistants need to take a break, rejuvenate, and get inspired, check out Continuing Education Company’s full list of upcoming continuing medical education conferences.

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