How to avoid burnout as a doctor

Dr Patrice Baptiste recently suffered from burnout, here she offers some practical advice to others who are facing a similar situation.

Dr Patrice Baptiste

I recently suffered from burnout which I think was and will always be inevitable unfortunately. As much as we try to avoid this happening, the very nature of our work means that at some point we will all probably experience being ‘burnt out’ to some degree.

However, there are many things we can do to reduce the chances of suffering from burnout and the frequency of which we may experience these episodes. Prevention is better than cure so, in my latest article I will be sharing with you five tips that I think can help tp reduce burnout and to hopefully minimise the severity of any episodes you experience.

Recognise the signs

Whilse burnout can manifest in a variety of ways, some of the signs to look out for would be feeling exhausted, lacking in motivation, feeling unable to cope with your work and even your personal life.

Your performance at work may become affected and you may lack the ability to concentrate on tasks that you once found easy to do. Of course there is an overlap with feelings of depression and anxiety and often they will co-exist. You may also experience physical symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, headaches and gastrointestinal disturbances.

Certain personality traits also make it more likely to suffer from the above. Of course as medics we are likely to have Type A personality traits, such as being work obsessed, competitive and placing a strong focus and attaching our self worth to achievement and success.

So, whilst the signs and symptoms may be broad it is important that you are aware of a few so that you can recognise when you may be approaching and even suffering from burnout.

Slow down

Due to the busy and often frantic nature of the society we live in we often forget to step off the treadmill of life; ever increasing with speed and less breaks for recovery. We get ‘caught up’ in the hundreds of things we have to do, worrying that if we take a moment to slow down or even stop something awful might happen.

We are trained from childhood to adhere to a schedule and as adults we forget to actual live our lives. We end up living to work rather than working to live. So, here I am to remind you, like I reminded myself recently, slow down and stop if you feel overwhelmed or close to burn out. Recognise the signs as above and aim to prevent yourself getting worse and then completely unable to do anything at all!

Don’t overwork

The majority of us work harder than we should or really need to. As doctors we are often perfectionists and high achievers; we always want to get better for ourselves and for our patients. We want to provide a high standard of care which often results in us neglecting our own and our families' needs too.

Whilst possible to achieve, it can be hard for many of us to consistently achieve a good work/life balance. It takes time and experience to ensure that we provide the best care we can whilst also looking after ourselves and our loved ones.

So, take a step back, is there anything that is not urgent and can be done during the next day? Is there anything that you can delegate to a colleague at work or a relative at home? What tools, such as a calendar or app can help you, or remind you to rest?

Schedule time to rest

Scheduling time to take a break, while important to do, is often not done often or at all. Personally I schedule everything into my diary except rest. This is something I am working on myself to ensure I don’t burn out in the near future.

Resting does not mean you are being unproductive, rather it is the opposite. As much as we need to charge our laptops, phones and other electronic devices we also need to ‘charge’ or recharge ourselves. One way to do this is through resting and resting properly. So, put you phone away and on silent, put a ‘do not disturb sign’ on your door and switch off completely.

I would also argue that we need to do this at work too. We need to ensure we take our thirty minutes or one hour break – and do what we can to ensure our colleagues do too. It should not be the norm to eat at your desk or substitute a proper meal with a protein bar and cup of coffee. If you are a trainee in the hospital, can you hold your colleague's bleep while they go to get lunch? Can you do an extra job instead of handing it over to the on call team, if you have some time to do so?

Always seek support

Finally, I would always urge you to speak to someone to share how you are feeling. It is always good to speak about things that are bothering you, whether that is just to rant and get things off your chest or to bounce ideas off of someone else; after all two heads are better than one.

NHS Practitioner Health is a confidential and free service for medics to use. The BMA provide support too and there are always service such as The Samaritans which are available over 24 hours.

Burnout is important to talk about as is mental health among the medical profession and our healthcare colleagues. It needs to be spoken about on a regular basis and should be included in medical training programmes and mandatory training.

Until then, we need to take responsibility for ourselves and look after each other. This will help to ensure we can continue to be the best we can be for not only us but our families and the patients we so desperately want to care for.

  • Dr Patrice Baptiste is a London-based portfolio GP. She has a YouTube channel aimed at supporting doctors and aspiring doctors during their careers.

There is more information on where doctors can access help and support if they are struggling to cope here.

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