I don’t think it comes as any surprise that medical students experience high rates of burnout during the length of their training, but reading this article made it all the more real for me and piqued my interest in nailing down specific ways to combat burnout throughout my training. If you don’t have time to read the entire article, I have simplified it below.
What do we know so far?
- Burnout is higher for students who are further along in their training.
- It is suggested that Emergency Medicine, General Internal Medicine, Neurology, and Family Medicine experience the highest rate of burnout. This is thought to be because they are at the front line of access to medical care; however more studies need to be done on this topic.
- Burnout reduces professional development. A multi-institutional study of US medical students found that increased burnout equated to decreased honesty, empathy, altruism, among other professional qualities. This is terrifying because, according to quite a few studies, it only gets worse in residency. As noted in this article, “Several studies have now reported that patients cared for by residents with burnout are at an increased risk of receiving suboptimal care and experiencing a medical error” (Dyrbye and Shanafelt 136).
What individual factors most contribute to burnout? Note: while there are many factors that contribute to burnout, I’m choosing to focus on personal ones that are more within our control.
- Being employed while being a medical student
- Lack of social support
How can I reduce my risk of burnout?
- Find meaning in your work/training. Stay grateful that you get to be a doctor and remind yourself why you are so passionate about this path. Don’t let that fire inside of you dim!
- Exercise, sleep, and just generally take care of your physical body.
- Avoid adopting a “survival attitude” (i.e. thinking “I just need to hold on until ‘X’ happens”).
- Place emphasis on positive reframing [this means shifting the way that you think about events and reconsidering them in a more positive way…easier said than done sometimes!] and developing your problem solving skills.
- Mindfulness training [positive self-reinforcement, yoga, meditation, communication skills training, etc.]. After 52 hours of a mindfulness training program, physicians “experienced markedly reduced burnout and improved empathy and mindfulness, with results sustained 3 months post-intervention” (140).
- Check in with yourself regularly.
- Seek support.
As basic as all of this may seem, I still find it important to discuss because, as stated in the article, “both trainees and doctors are reluctant to seek help for mental health concerns. Unfortunately, few trainees with burnout seek help due to perceived stigma, negative personal experiences, and social and cultural factors” (141). In this day and age, why are we so hesitant to ask for help or even open into conversation about something that can change the quality of our lives and our patients’ lives for the better?