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Recommendations to get you thinking about how you can improve your work/life balance and guard against burnout. How to gain control.
With more government hoops to jump through than ever and shrinking reimbursements; it’s no surprise physician burnout is on the rise.
A recent Physician Lifestyle Report showed a 46% incidence of physician burnout, up six points compared to just two years prior. And though dermatologists rated highest in experiencing ‘happiness at work’, and the lowest percentage of burned-out physicians by specialty, a 37% burnout rate is nothing to brag about. Of those that are burned out, a full 10% say they are at their max, close to leaving medicine altogether!
Physicians must be intentional about protecting themselves from burnout and finding their own work/life balance. You’ve probably read tips for physician de-stressing before. Just like patients who, despite your recommendations, don't take care of their skin until the first signs of aging or sun damage, you too may have ignored these tips until you felt the unrelenting stress that signals you’re near burnout.
Even though creating work/life balance looks different for each professional, here are some tips to help you push back burnout and get in touch with what makes your career and life feel fulfilling and balanced.
1. Make a schedule Intervention. If you’re frustrated that your quality of care is being compromised, or because you need more time for family, other interests, or you simply need to decompress, consider reducing your clinical hours. Does this sound impossible because of the financial hit you anticipate? Work with a consultant and talk to other physicians to help open your mind to creative alternatives like subletting office space after hours, utilizing mid-level practitioners, or refining your business model or patient mix.
Dermatology is a fantastic specialty for customizing a business model. You can find your sweet spot by increasing aesthetic services to boost revenue while still caring for your medical dermatology patients. A lack of control over work schedule is linked to physician burnout, but the solution isn’t always cutting back hours. The same amount of clinical hours can become more gratifying when customized to personal preference. For example, taking Thursday afternoon off to coach little league.
2. Volunteer. The recent Physician Lifestyle Report underscored something we’ve heard for years; physicians attending religious services and volunteering are less burned out. This could be pro-bono clinical care or totally unrelated volunteering like coaching or sitting on a non-profit’s board. Time is always in short supply for physicians, but if you begin small and build it into your lifestyle, volunteering and attending services can bring a deep satisfaction to your life and help ward off burnout.
3. Take a real break. Does any of this sound familiar: working through lunch, ‘multi-tasking’, taking work home? If you’re an owner-physician it can be especially hard to walk away at the end of the day. Nonetheless, it’s important to completely unplug from the practice and experience regular “down time”. This can be as small a change as a regular power nap, a walk outdoors or a call to a friend at lunch, but can also mean bigger changes like not working at home and making yourself unavailable while on vacation. Physicians with more vacation time show less incidence of burnout. It’s possible that those who need it most are taking it the least.
A recent experiment for one Texas school proved that tripling recess time and adding breaks produced more creative, independent, and better-focused students. Teachers worried that reduced class time would inhibit them from covering the entire curriculum but instead found that learning and quality of work increased. Debbie Rhea, program creator, emphasized that breaks are outdoors and unstructured, a possible cue to improving your down time. Unplugging from your practice can contribute to keeping burnout at bay, but it might also improve your productivity, creativity and focus.
4. Make a plan for financial freedom. It won’t shock anyone to hear that physicians with high debt or low savings are more likely to feel burnout. Feeling financially strapped can lead to a sense of lack of control over your own life, which is stressful. But creating a workable plan can be enough to relieve that stress. Find a financial advisor who doesn’t benefit from selling you anything but instead charges for their expertise (just like you do). This is a good way to know you aren’t being pushed into products that aren’t best for you. Even if you devise the plan yourself, the point is to have a plan and to feel like you are accomplishing your goals.
If you don’t take care of you, you can’t take care of others - that includes patients, your family and yourself. Dr. Mark Linzer, director of the Division of General Internal Medicine at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, who has studied physician burnout since 1996, says, “As physicians, we want to be altruistic but one of the keys to altruism is self-care”. If you allow yourself to let go of the things that make you, ‘you’, how will you continue to provide for and protect yourself and others important to you? No one can do these things for you, it starts with you, and it starts today.
These recommendations should get you thinking on how you can improve your work/life balance and guard against physician burnout. For more, check out the resources below.
 Pawolowski, A. (2016, January 8). Want kids to listen more, fidget less? Try more recess... this school did. Retrieved from http://www.today.com/parents/want-kids-listen-more-fidget-less-try-more-recess-school-t65536
 How to beat burnout: 7 signs physicians should know. (2015, March 4). Retrieved from http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/ama-wire/post/beat-burnout-7-signs-physicians-should