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Epidemic Physician Burnout Affects Female Doctors Differently

Part 1:  What Does Physician Burnout Look Like?

Guest Post by Dike Drummond, MD

At WMDR we are always looking for colleagues who can help women physicians live better lives. Dr. Dike Drummond is one who has focused his attention on physician burnout.  Read what he has to say.  Hope you can help yourself our someone you know!

One out of three practicing physicians are suffering from “symptomatic burnout” on any given office day.  This worldwide phenomenon, regardless of specialty, was reported in a   2012 survey of US physicians: 60% said they would quit today if they “had the means”.

Not healthy for doctors, and certainly not healthy for patients.  And perhaps to no one’s surprise, women physicians experience burnout differently.

In this two part series you will learn the three cardinal symptoms of burnout (part 1) and then how to recognize these in both women and men.

The three classic signs and symptoms of burnout are measured by a standardized evaluation; the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI). They are:

Emotional Exhaustion.  Do you feel tapped out after the office day, hospital rounds or being on call and you are unable to recover with time off?  Feeling tapped out is common and part of the “ordinary stress” we feel as physicians.   Burnout is differentiated from “ordinary stress” by the inability to recover fully in the time away from work. Over time our energy level begins to follow a downward spiral. As we near the bottom, most physicians will begin to say or think, “I’m not sure how much longer I can go on like this.”

Depersonalization.  Are you increasingly negative, cynical or sarcastic in your responses to others? Have you become callous, and detached from your patients and job duties? Are you starting to blame and complain about patients and their problems? In settings where burnout levels are high, these attitudes and behavior will be seen as normal or even a healthy process of venting.  They are not normal and not healthy and certainly not helpful to doctor or patient.

Reduced Accomplishment.  Are you beginning to question whether you are offering quality care?  Do you wonder whether what you do makes a difference or really matters at all? A common thought or statement at this time is, “What’s the use”?

Are these feelings or symptoms you have?  If so, you are not alone.  While physician burnout does not only affect women, as more women  doctors move into the healthcare workforce, researchers are beginning to focus on the differences in the way burnout presents in men and women.  Now that you know the feelings associated with burnout, you will probably be able to imagine the differences. Here is what groundbreaking research published in 2011 is showed.  Women and men experience burnout differently.

This study is based on practicing primary care physicians. But burnout symptom patterns are true in ANY stressful profession even nursing, therapists, law enforcement, military personnel and parenting.  Now that you know the three classic signs of burnout, stay tuned for the patterns of burnout as they affect women and men differently!

Dike Drummond, M.D., is a family physician, executive coach and creator of the Burnout Prevention Video Training Series. He provides stress management, burnout prevention and physician wellness and engagement coaching and consulting through his website, The Happy MD.


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