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DOs offer their strategies for addressing physician burnout and share lessons they've learned along the way.
Everyone in medicine, from medical school through retirement, could face depression, burnout or suicidal thoughts at some point in their training or career. In a recent study, more than half of physicians reported experiencing burnout and each year, roughly 300-400 physicians take their own lives.
If you identify with the warning signs of physician burnout or depression, or worry you’re headed down that path, it could be time to reevaluate your approach toward medicine and establish some new habits and boundaries.
For today’s physicians, it’s nearly impossible to separate the work of practicing medicine from a fulfilling home life. But that doesn’t mean either area of your life has to suffer. Here are 5 things to keep in mind.
Instead of balance, which puts work and life in competition with one another, think of your goal as work-life integration. As a doctor, work will likely be a major aspect of your life. Try to learn to work around it, or make work and life work together. Talk to your employer about flexible working arrangements or compressing weeks to allow for longer periods of time away from work.
Meditation can help students and physicians create a more thoughtful and less automatic response to stress, notes Ulrick Vieux, DO, MS, the psychiatry residency program director at Orange Regional Medical Center in Middletown, New York. However, mindfulness meditation takes practice, and it may take some time before physicians notice results, so this mental exercise may be more helpful to combat mild symptoms of burnout and depression.
Take a break
Realize when you need a break by identifying common triggers. For many, being easily angered or consumed with stress is a signal that you could use time away. Ask yourself why you're acting differently and try to implement positive coping skills, such as meditation, yoga or anything that reduces your stress in a healthy way.
Be more social
Social media, that is. Physicians must be mindful of the type of information they make public on social networks. It's visible to patients and employers alike. However, when used carefully, social media can be a great way to maintain contact with friends and family. It's a platform to express views about who you are and how you practice. And, it can be a great resource to help connect you with peers who are experiencing similar professional challenges.
Talk to your family
Your spouse and children have responsibilities outside of medicine, which can make balancing family activities and priorities difficult. Talk to your family, especially your spouse, about the difficulties you are facing. This will help alleviate some of the stress when things become rough. With children, communicate early that you will miss some important events, but will schedule time for special family activities.
The following resources have been useful in helping physicians avoid burnout and build resilience.
Mindfulness is defined as the mental state you achieve when you focus your awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, both mental and physical.
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