Resident & Student Health

What you can do to beat burnout during medical residency

Nearly half of medical residents report at least one symptom of burnout. And while medical students exhibit lower distress at time of enrollment than similarly aged college graduates in the U.S., that takes a dramatic turn during their undergraduate medical education—a time when their distress levels continue to spiral upward throughout their career in medicine. Several factors away from the bedside can often exert pressure and contribute to medical resident burnout such as work-life balance.

Committed to making physician burnout a thing of the past, the AMA has studied, and is addressing, issues causing and fueling physician burnout—including time constraints, technology and regulations—to better understand the challenges physicians face. An AMA STEPS Forward™ module offers a five-step plan to help prevent resident and fellow burnout.

When you are looking to prevent and alleviate medical resident burnout, these stories from 2018 highlight what to do.

Don’t be a hero; you don’t have to do it alone. The opening days of residency can be overwhelming and isolating. You are entering your new life, and the road ahead is not easy. Take solace in the fact that you are not alone. After a conversation with a fellow resident, fourth-year ob-gyn Tani Malhotra, MD, changed her viewpoint because a large part of avoiding burnout is having a support system. 

Don’t forget your family. Increasing attention has been focused on the crisis of physician burnout. What’s largely left out of the discussion is the effect of burnout on physician families. When work factors catch up with physicians, the result can be articulated by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and a lost sense of personal accomplishment. Even when a physician thinks he or she is suffering in silence, their problems run the risk of having a negative impact on a spouse or children.

Don’t let a shift drag you down. Long shifts are a dreary reality of residency. As your shifts drag on, a few residents shared some of their methods for maintaining their energy levels and alertness into the wee hours of the morning. Some pick-me-ups that can help buoy a sleep-deprived trainee during their longest stints on call include arriving rested, knowing when to ask for help, remaining on task and monitoring caffeine intake.

Don’t forget to look out for your colleagues. Physician burnout is distressingly common, yet when you see a colleague struggling you might not be sure what to say or do. Knowing what to look for and how to respond can make a huge difference to a struggling colleague. Whether you are in a small practice, hospital or health system, it is important to look out for your colleagues and know how to recognize and respond to physician burnout.