Emotional exhaustion, feelings of cynicism, detachment from patients—do these symptoms sound familiar? They can signal professional burnout, which studies show is more prevalent among physicians than other professionals. Experienced residents and fellows offer advice on what you can do to avoid burnout during training and become a more satisfied, resilient physician.
Medical students and residents are more likely to be burned out, depressed or fatigued compared to similarly aged college graduates pursuing other careers, according to a recent study in Academic Medicine.
“I think that intern year can be quite intimidating and overwhelming, and everyone feels like they are starting to burn out,” said Anna Piotrowski, MD, chief resident of the adult psychiatry residency program at the University of Chicago. “At that point, medicine becomes a job and a routine that you have to get through every day, instead of something engaging and enjoyable.”
When that feeling crept in, Dr. Piotrowski said her solution was to maintain perspective and make time to relax and unwind.
Tina Shah, MD, a pulmonary and critical care fellow at the University of Chicago and chair of the AMA Resident and Fellow Section (RFS), echoed Dr. Piotrowski’s advice.
“I tried not to isolate myself when I was feeling burned out and let off steam with my co-residents, who understood what I was going through,” Dr. Shah said. “When I was really motivated, exercising helped me feel less burned out.”
Dr. Shah also recommends having a specific hobby.
“Whether it’s running, playing video games or routine dinners with friends, this one activity will help you let go of the stress at work,” she said.
“It’s important to remember you are a human being with wants, needs and desires, rather than just someone in medical training,” Dr. Piotrowski said.
To prevent burnout before it sets in, many medical schools and residency programs are investigating and implementing resiliency training, teaching trainees to prioritize self-care and how to effectively manage their emotions.
Most graduate medical education programs have wellness resources, both for physical and mental issues. These resources range from stress management programs to help centers and exercise programs.
Although stress is inevitable, burnout is preventable. Make sure to identify coping strategies that work for you, and seek help if you need it.
“Burnout is dangerous, both for ourselves and for our patients,” Dr. Piotrowski said. “When you are an exhausted and unhappy medical student or resident, you may not be very good at taking care of your patients. You can get ahead of the situation and prevent it.”