5 personal issues that add to medical resident burnout

Sara Berg, MS , News Editor

Alleviating physician burnout at all levels requires addressing the system factors that cause it and creating the organizational structures that can stem the tide.

But it is clear that, for medical residents in particular, factors outside of training can exert pressure and contribute to physician burnout.

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Here are five personal issues that can affect medical resident burnout.

Balancing family and clinical commitments can seem like an almost impossible task. Whether your child is planned or “a surprise,” the timing is never going to be entirely convenient for your medical training. Covering child care, completing housework and organizing your life can be difficult. Here is how residents overcame their biggest challenges while having a family during residency.

Residents also struggle to balance time with their families because they are not going to be able to make every holiday. To overcome this, plan and communicate with your family members. This can give you some time to relax while surrounded by parents, siblings, nieces and nephews.

Long shifts are expected during residency, resulting in chronic sleep debt. Considering the time and intensity of longer shifts, the opportunities for sleep are few and far between. For example, in a study of more than 200 internal medicine residents published in the February 2017 issue of the journal Sleep, researchers found that residents were sleeping fewer than three hours per overnight shift.

To overcome a lack of sleep, residents suggested asking for help if you feel exhausted, remaining on task and staying organized, and monitoring your intake of caffeine. Taking extra steps to get more rest and relaxation between long shifts can help reduce burnout.

It is not easy to maintain a social life outside of residency responsibilities, but it can prove to be an essential aspect of maximizing personal well-being. According to a Medscape survey, 33 percent of residents cited work-life balance as their biggest challenge. Residents can learn to maintain work-life balance by getting to know the people and places near their residency, keep in touch with friends and family, prioritize plans and taking care of themselves.

Working long shifts leads to a lack of free time, which can make it difficult to accomplish everyday tasks. A key to life hacks for medical residents is to automate as much as you can. For example, using a slow cooker can help speed up dinner and offer an easy solution to return home to. Residents can also try meal-prep or grocery delivery services to skip the line.

Residency is not easy and can often be overwhelming and isolating. However, it is important to know that you’re not alone. When residents experience isolation or self-doubt, reaching out to a fellow resident or an attending physician can help. Having a strong support system can reduce resident burnout and improve well-being.

Many residents have also shown a propensity to focus on the negative, to the point that some show signs of the imposter syndrome. Residents can also benefit from interacting with an academic coach who has their long-term goals in mind. A good coach can help them celebrate their successes, building confidence and lessening the symptoms of resident burnout.

Strong personal relationships are a direct contributor to residents’ personal well-being, but they can also be stressful. Maintaining those relationships, particularly romantic ones, can be at odds with the demands of residency.

Residents face several obstacles—such as workloads, call hours, stress and household demands—in forming and maintaining healthy romantic relationships. To commit to romance and making those relationships last, residents should make time to catch up and communicate.