No matter what your profession is, how long you have been doing it, or how much you love it, you are not immune to stress. Everyday experiences and challenges on the job can easily lead to frustration and tiredness at relatively manageable levels. While one of those days goes without severe consequences, other times, things can get a little more complicated and serious.
What Is Work Burnout & How Does It Manifest?
Work burnout manifests through symptoms of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment. Besides these Big 3 Symptoms, healthcare professionals can also experience cynicism, low frustration tolerance and lack of patience, attention deficits, and more.
If such problems seem to become permanent and turn into personality traits, you may be in the risk of developing burnout. In the healthcare field, it seems that nearly half of physicians show signs of burnout, and the number has only increased since 2012, when researchers have conducted such studies.
In fact, recent statistics show that work burnout among health care workers, mainly medical staff, became an occupational hazard, with its rate reaching between 20% and 60% in some clinical specialties. Additionally, reports show that among the main sources of occupational illnesses, work burnout represents 8% of all cases.
In a working environment marked by a national physician shortage, healthcare professionals at facilities across the country are more overworked than ever before. However, some of the predictors identified in healthcare burnout are:
- job insecurity and high turnover rates,
- history of physical illness,
- low interest in the profession,
- poor relationship status with managers,
- worry of contracting infection or illness and physical/verbal abuse,
- long years of work experience,
- long hours of work per week-dealing with patients’ psychological problems,
- disturbance of family life pertaining to work,
- substance use.
Which Healthcare Professionals Are More Exposed To Burnout?
Looking at the facts above, you can easily see that salaries do not play a major part when it comes to work burnout triggers and favoring factors. While overwork and turnover are burnout predictors, there is no direct indication that payment contributes to burnout. Statistically speaking, many doctors and healthcare professionals in developed countries have great salaries. Unfortunately, these high salaries do not make up to the personnel shortage that threatens US healthcare in the near future.
The Ob/Gyn – A Case Study
For instance, a gynecologist’s salary was one of the highest of all medical specialties in 2018. On the other hand, recent research shows worrying perspectives for this profession. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost half of U.S. counties lack a gynecologist/ obstetrician. Recent studies show that the problem is only going to get worse. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) recently estimated that by 2020, there will be up to 8,000 fewer ob/gyns than needed across the country.
What is the cause of this problem? Even if an ob/gyn easily makes a six-figure salary per year, gynecology is a subspecialty with high burnout, high risk for lawsuits, and few opportunities for training. Work burnout, in fact, is one of the main causes for the shortage. The job is physically exhausting, hospital specialists stay up at all hours, and they live in constant fear of lawsuits.
Ob/gyns are the most commonly sued physicians. A 2012 AMA survey found that of the approximately 4,000 medical liability lawsuits filed between 2009 and 2011, a full two-thirds involved obstetric care. These figures make malpractice insurance particularly high and complicated for ob/gyns in comparison to other practitioners.
This not only makes it very expensive to even open private practice, but also harder to recruit more medical students into the profession. In other words, the perspective of making a lot of money as a gynecologist fades away in the face of lawsuits, emergencies, emotional baggage gained with each patient, physical and mental exhaustion, patient mortality, and more.
Following the case study above, it is interesting to see that other high-paying medical experts, such as surgeons, internists and pediatricians, are also some of the most exposed healthcare professionals to burnout. From this point of view, it would seem that low salaries might not have a direct relationship with burnout, while some specialties, while coming with high salaries also come with extreme responsibilities and psychological pressure. Let’ see a few statistics:
- Severe burnout syndrome symptoms were reported in more than 45% of critical care physicians, with those specializing in pediatric critical care were at 71%;
- Critical care nurses present severe burnout syndrome symptoms (25-33%), while 66% of nurses in general show at least one burnout symptom out of the major three;
- The highest burnout symptoms are present in ICU professionals;
- Other medical professionals show burnout symptoms as follows: physician assistants (61.8%), physicians (38.6%), administrative staff (36.1%) and medical technicians (31.9%).
Tips to Get Over Work Burnout in Healthcare Industry
We are facing a grim situation ahead: on one hand, we risk even more medical professionals’ shortage, while on the other, the doctors and nurses we have are fighting work burnout every single day. In this framework, specialists have come up with plenty of burnout prevention methods, solutions, and strategies.
At an institutional level, managers should create a culture that sustains resilience and supports employee wellbeing. They should better tackle the shortage situations, work together to take off some of their staff burdens, ease bureaucracy and come up with solid, actionable support strategies, more relaxed hours, and so on.
However, what can those working every day in the healthcare system do? Here are six tips on how to overcome burnout if you are a healthcare professional:
Listen to Music
There is no secret that music is one of the most convenient go-to stress relievers. In fact, recent studies came up with anxiety-reducing tunes and melodies that boost your mood by influencing your alpha brainwaves, making you feel more relaxed, optimist, joyful, and in tune with your own thoughts and body.
Meditation is a long-trusted tool for stress relief, relaxation, and mindfulness. Once you get the hang of it, you can spend just a few minutes a day to refocus your energy, find balance, get control of your emotions, remember what is important, and gain a better view of yourself and life in general.
It may sound ironic, given the fact that people end up in burnout because they are overworked and have very little time for themselves or for their families, but this does not mean they have to give up on themselves. Taking some personal time at least for a few minutes a day helps your brain relax and your emotions decompress. In medical environments, professionals barely have time to eat, let alone relax, but there are a few things you can do to regain your energy and will to live and work:
- Breathing exercises with or without meditation;
- A short session of stretching;
- Smiling (even if you do not have any obvious reasons) – by actually moving your smiling muscles, you trick your brain into thinking you are joyful, forcing it to release some endorphins, which, in turn, will make you a bit more relaxed and joyful.
You can see a professional clinician psychologists trained to deal with professional burnout and stress management. As a healthcare professional, you should entrust another healthcare professional with your wellbeing.
There is little time for family, let alone for hobbies, but even your therapist will tell you to engage in after-work activities that relax you and make you happy, no matter how small or unimportant they may seem.
You will need backup from your colleagues and managers, but many institutions employ burnout-prevention support strategies, including regular employee gatherings in the presence of a therapist or professional counselor. Sharing your problems and fears with others going through the same ordeal is one of the first steps to personal and professional healing.
While burnout seems to affect more and more health workers, they also have means of preventing and combating this illness. Support groups, strong social and family networks, mindfulness, and stress-relieving techniques, counseling, and more can really make a difference.