Medicine is a brilliant career - there are a few other professions with so many possibilities to improve people’s lives.
The increasing levels of burnout I encounter as I talk to colleagues is, however, extremely troubling. We must not let the environment we work in reduce the sense of value that we get from being a doctor.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently recognised burnout as a syndrome brought about by chronic workplace stress that hasn't been successfully managed. It is characterised by mental, physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, increased detachment and a decline in professional satisfaction caused by multiple factors.
When doctors feel burnt out and disillusioned it is not only concerning for the doctors but for patients and the wider healthcare team. Doctors who are happy and engaged are much more likely to be compassionate and provide safer patient care.
As leaders, managers and peers we are all responsible for identifying signs of burnout in ourselves and others and in working together to develop strategies to enhance personal resilience.
Medical Protection Society (MPS) also has a role to play. As a mutual organisation, it is vital that we listen to and care for members and I am proud of the work we do to support those dealing with burnout – through our resilience hub and workshops. The feedback we get from doctors who undergo our risk prevention training is incredibly positive. But while such support is invaluable it is only a part of the solution.
We asked members from around the world about their working environment and they told us loud and clear about the impact their work has on their wellbeing. Over half (52%) are not satisfied with their work/life balance, 42% often or always start the working day feeling tired, and 35% say they have considered leaving the profession for reasons of personal wellbeing.
New reports are published regularly showing increasing problems with doctors’ health and wellbeing and healthcare professionals leaving practice prematurely. It is perhaps one of the great paradoxes of our age that modern medicine allows doctors to do more for their patients than ever before, yet increasing evidence shows that doctors feel burnt out and disillusioned in ever greater numbers.
The causes of burnout have also been widely debated and include the growing demands and complexity of the job, a faster pace of work and tighter financial constraints.
From our work with doctors around the world, we have been able to identify some recommendations - aimed at the doctor, the healthcare team, and the wider healthcare system – which could help to mitigate some of the risks of burnout in the profession.
These include for NHS organisations in England to fully commit to the implementation of 'workforce wellbeing guardians'. This is a recommendation made by the NHS Staff and Learners’ Mental Wellbeing Commission which was set up by Health Education England.
We believe that GPs should not be overlooked and should also have a dedicated person who makes their health and wellbeing a core priority and is trained to recognise and support GPs when they are experiencing difficulties. We think this could be achieved by 2022, and would support similar actions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
MPS’s 'Breaking the burnout cycle' report just launched offers more detail and a host of other recommendations for the wider healthcare community.
MPS, alongside other organisations, must seek commitment from healthcare providers and the government to improve the working environment and to truly begin to tackle the endemic of burnout in healthcare. Only with organisational level interventions can the wellbeing of doctors be safeguarded.