Moving Forward Post Pandemic: Recovering from Physician Burnout

September 30, 2022 RLDatix Marketing

Darren Kilroy, Medical Director (International) at RLDatix writes:

To say that wellbeing at work is a prerequisite to a happy and productive career seems almost too obvious to merit consideration. Yet our recent shared experiences as we have collectively faced and battled the worst excesses of a global pandemic have given us pause to reflect. Emerging from the blizzard of emotional and physical strain so many of us have endured in that endeavour, whatever our roles, jobs, seniorities, experience, we find ourselves not only tired and unsure of many of the certainties we may once have held fast to, but in many cases unable to function in quite the way we once took for granted. The burnout that this represents is not a new concept in workforce, but its renewed prominence and potential impact on all of us has been brought into sharp focus and forces us to think deeply about purpose, values and the true meaning of having a good day at work.

A comprehensive systematic review of physician burnout in particular has been published in the British Medical Journal this month, bringing together 170 separate studies of the topic into a composite whole. The findings of this review are striking and instructive for all of us who touch health and  care technology. Striking, because the links between burnout and job dissatisfaction, poor retention and career choice confidence are laid bare in the paper; instructive, because the consequences of burnout for patient satisfaction, standards of professionalism and patient safety incidents and workforce challenges are also clearly and soberly articulated.

"Put simply, burnout not only affects the sufferer, it affects those they work with, care for and strive to heal, measurably and adversely."

The triggers for burnout have been well described and range from unrealistic workload expectations, through micromanagement, to lack of task clarity and an isolated working environment. The symptoms and signs are many and varied: tiredness and apathy might be assumed to be inevitable, but headaches, sleep disturbance, negativity, an uncharacteristic snappiness, arriving late, and disinterest in doing a good job can all reflect burnout – and in many combinations, making it difficult to identify in many cases, especially in its early stages.

What is now different is the emerging evidence of the impact of burnout on health and care outcomes at a time when the demands being placed upon resources have never been more challenging. Not only is the burden of care delivery being felt more heavily than ever before, the potential burden on society of that burnout is now beginning to manifest itself at the worst possible time.

"We cannot stand by. The time to act is now, and we all have our part to play. All of us. Whatever our roles. Whatever our experience. Whatever our seniority."

The simplest of things begin to help the mitigation of burnout, and the actions we all take to help will matter. Every conversation we have, with whomever we have it, must be a caring, considerate and supportive one. The moments we steal to check on the welfare of a colleague – someone we have known for years, or a new workplace acquaintance, it matters not – will be repaid ten times over right now. Care taken to support the effective implementation of any new system of working, the time taken to check back and ensure understanding, the clarification of expectations and the liberal offering of support and help will pay vast dividends. The energy we invest in ensuring that incident reporting systems are easily navigable for the most apprehensive of users will be repaid. The interest and concern we demonstrate for the welfare of one another assumes an unprecedented significance. For these are the things that will help us not eliminate, but reduce the severity of, workplace burnout. We cannot remove nor often reduce the demands placed upon us. But we can all play our part. Being involved in the health and care of our fellow citizens is the most precious and privileged of occupations. The health and care of our colleagues is the necessary prerequisite. Let’s all commit to making that our shared resolution.

Want to read more? Check out some of our other blogs on Addressing Moral Injury - Caring for the Carers and Building the Right Workplace Culture with Every New Recruit.

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