May 23, 2022

Supporting Medical Professionals Through Clinician Burnout

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May is National Nursing Month. The awareness event is trying to shine a light on the stressful challenges nurses, and other medical professionals, may need to overcome due to the stress and demanding nature of their jobs. Clinician burnout is a real issue facing those who are caring for patients in the health care setting. The phenomenon has become especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there are things that can be done to support medical professionals and improve clinician well-being.

Recognizing Clinician Burnout

Burnout is not new among medical professionals, but COVID-19 is highlighting some of the challenges that they face on a daily basis. Examples of the types of issues they are forced to handle include enhanced administrative burdens, gaps in communication systems, and issues with staffing. All of these extra challenges were heightened with the pandemic.

Health Grades reported on the issues of physician burnout at the height of the pandemic in 2020. The article explained, "As a patient, it’s important for you to understand the causes and symptoms of doctor burnout, so you can be on the lookout for signs that could affect your healthcare." Since the stressors on medical professionals happening at that time are still present, there is still value in understanding burnout among doctors, nurses, and all medical professionals.

What is Clinician Burnout?

Burnout can present differently for different people. It's described as a psychological and physical reaction to feeling stress on the job. People experiencing burnout may seem to be less enthusiastic about their work, they could be detached from patients and coworkers, and could also show signs of exhaustion and depression.

Symptoms commonly experienced include:

  • Mental and physical exhaustion from patient and paperwork overload
  • Compassion fatigue and detachment from patients and coworkers
  • Doubts about the quality of work and ability to perform
  • Difficulty sleeping and sleep deprivation
  • High levels of stress
  • Personal and relationship problems

All these issues can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and substance abuse. All of that comes from heightened stress, anxiety, and exhaustion. 

Signs of Burnout

Patients can play an important role in identifying burnout. It's important to understand the causes and symptoms, in order to be on the lookout for signs that your care may be impacted negatively. 

When a medical professional experiences even just one symptom of burnout, there might be a reduced quality of care for their patients. They could have less interest in their work and make more mistakes due to apathy or fatigue. There are signs to look for to see if your nurse or doctor is struggling including: 

  • Irritability - Does your nurse or doctor seem distracted or short with you?
  • Loss of enthusiasm - Are they interested in you and your care?
  • Complaining - Are they making complaints or venting to you?
  • Chaos - Does the office or department seem chaotic and stressful?
  • Cancellations - Do you notice a lot of cancellations or rescheduling of appointments at the last minute?

What Can You Do If You Notice Burnout in Your Nurse or Doctor?

The first thing you need to do is speak up. If you notice signs of burnout in your doctor or nurse, let someone know. It could improve the care you receive, help another patient, or aid your doctor or nurse in getting help.

Feedback should be welcomed by your healthcare providers. If you feel comfortable, you can speak directly with your doctor or nurse about what you've witnessed. You could also write an anonymous letter to the practice or health system that's involved if you feel nervous about voicing your concerns directly. 

Above all else, you can help ease the stress that doctors and nurses feel by being prepared for your appointment. That may include writing down what you want to discuss during your visit. Also, try to come to the table with kindness and empathy. Those two traits can help support people through a lot of difficult times. 

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