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Breaking the Burnout Cycle

Published on
17 November 2019
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Burnout is frequently missed

The signs are often not obvious and the final collapse happens when all energy supplies have been used up and time off to recover is then essential. Medical professionals play a vital role in society and make such a positive difference to the lives of all of us, but this seems to feed into a belief that this should be reward enough, that they don’t need the same balanced life with time off for rest and illness.  

A recent study in Ireland into Burnout found that one in three hospital doctors in the health services suffers from Burnout.

Another survey shows that almost 30% of the doctors surveyed feel unappreciated for the work they do. Almost half in a survey in 2019 stated they have considered leaving the medical professions for reasons of personal wellbeing, and 40% felt unable to take breaks during the, often crushingly long, working day.

Perhaps the 72% of doctors, in a study in 2018, who said that they would go to work even when unwell or not resilient enough to work safely provides the most powerful evidence of this being both an organisational and individual problem that needs immediate attention.

We are well aware that this attitude to illness leads to longer term more serious issues – both for the sick doctors, and for the safety of their patients. Guilt about staying off plays a large part in reluctance to take sick leave, and the same goes for attitudes about taking breaks.

What can we do about Burnout?

Professor Dame Jane Dacre highlights all these issues and she recommends that medical students and doctors should be trained in how to develop effective coping strategies.  She also emphasises the need for focusing on prevention – waiting until energy supplies are dangerously low is leaving it too late. Early intervention is the way forward, for everybody’s health – and safety.

Teaching medical staff skills such as assertiveness and how to manage energy levels combined with organisational change is the way to make a real difference.  Teams need to feel valued by the organisation and to value their own wellbeing to enable them to experience a happier and safer workplace. On board a plane we are reminded, in case of emergency, to put our own mask on first to then enable us to help others. The same applies to busy medical professionals – looking after themselves first enables them to help others to the best of their ability.