How to Avoid Physician Burnout

Most professionals experience some level of burnout in their careers, leaving them unmotivated and exhausted in roles that once excited them. While burnout is most often associated with 9-5 desk jobs, it can happen in any profession, including healthcare. Especially in the last few years, thousands of physicians have been experiencing burnout. 

When physicians feel this way, it becomes more challenging to do their job and thus care for patients. Fortunately, identifying the signs and taking steps to alleviate burnout can significantly improve conditions for both physicians and patients. 


Symptoms of Burnout


While burnout is a concern for any professional, it is especially alarming for physicians whose attitude and motivation can impact patient care. Traditionally, physicians have a high burnout rate as they work long hours and often have to handle adverse patient outcomes - after years of schooling and training to get where they are now. 

To make matters worse, the rate of burnout has increased even further since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Worldwide, physicians had to put themselves at risk to help patients, resulting in increased stress, tiredness, and personal time. As such, for practices to keep their physicians happy and healthy, they must address the issue of physician burnout. 

One of the most effective ways to avoid physician burnout within a practice is to identify the early signs of burnout. If you can identify burnout as it is forming, you will be more likely to reverse the effects and create a more positive working environment. As 44% of physicians exhibit at least one sign of burnout, identifying these symptoms could save your practice. 


1. Decreased Job Satisfaction


As a physician, a critical aspect of your role is caring for patients and rooting for their recovery. For physicians content in their role, job satisfaction comes easily when caring for patients, especially those making progress in their recovery. Unfortunately, some patients face more challenging recoveries than others, and the route to recovery may not be linear. As such, many physicians become daunted by a lack of success. 

Why this is relatively normal, a significant symptom of burnout in physicians is a decrease in job satisfaction and sense of accomplishment. If physicians find themselves struggling to feel a sense of accomplishment in their role, it is an early sign that they are becoming discouraged or dissatisfied in their job. If a physician is unable to celebrate their accomplishments, adverse outcomes may affect them even more significantly than they otherwise might. 


2. Loss of Motivation


Similar to a decrease in job satisfaction, another symptom of burnout is a loss of motivation in one’s role. As a physician, motivation is a crucial aspect of caring for patients, as you must be motivated to make a diagnosis, determine an effective treatment, and work towards recovery. Without proper motivation, a long road to recovery may seem impossible. With this negative mindset, it is unlikely that patients will receive the care they need to heal properly. 


3. Detachment


Another sign of burnout in physicians is detachment. While a certain level of detachment is required in healthcare to care for patients without bias, complete detachment is a significant cause for concern. If physicians cease to care about patient outcomes, they may not put in the effort to find the best possible treatment options for their patients or provide the support needed for ongoing conditions. 

In addition to these major symptoms, other signs of burnout may include procrastinating, withdrawal from work or responsibilities, tiredness that does not correspond to sleep, or an ongoing negative attitude. 


Avoiding and Combatting Burnout


Once you have begun identifying signs of burnout in one of your physicians, it is time to start combatting them. Or, even if you haven’t noticed any clear signs of burnout, you should be taking measures to ensure that they do not develop. Using these practices, you can avoid and combat burnout, in addition to creating an overall more positive work environment - one that both physicians and patients will benefit from. 


1. Encourage a Work-Life Balance


There is no question that an uneven work-life balance will contribute to burnout for all professionals. As most physicians work long and irregular hours, a perfect work-life balance may not be feasible, but they can carve out time for themselves to break up the workday. 

Finding time to cultivate one's personal life can significantly improve morale and productivity for physicians. Carving out time for activities such as exercising can serve as an excellent mood booster to physicians. Furthermore, adopting a hobby or reading something non-medical can help physicians break out of what can seem like a monotonous routine. 

It is also important that even with a hefty worklife, physicians find time for their friends and family. Without such personal time, it can be easy for individuals to feel that work is their entire life, which is not feasible and heavily contributes to burnout. Even for physicians without a large social circle, joining a mentor or support group can help them to spend quality time with others outside of their practice. 


2. Reduce Administrative Burdens


In addition to encouraging a better work-life balance, there are practices that physicians can adopt to reduce burnout while still at work. Many times when we think of physicians, we only consider the medical aspects of their role, like treating patients or prescribing drugs. In reality, there is a considerable amount of administrative work to be done, and it contributes significantly to their workload and, thus, burnout. 

Fortunately, some solutions can alleviate these tasks and reduce administrative burdens. By adopting a telehealth platform, physicians can delegate their administrative tasks to a highly capable and automated method of administration. Using telehealth, physicians can automate appointment scheduling, access and upload medical files virtually, and even communicate with patients and other physicians more easily. 

Using technology, physicians can greatly reduce the amount of time spent on administrative tasks while making them more efficient and accurate. As a result, physicians have more time to spend actually treating patients and balancing their own lives with their work. 


3. Improve Patient Care


In addition to alleviating administrative burdens, telehealth solutions can also significantly improve the patient experience. As physicians can more effectively complete administrative tasks, they have more time to spend caring for and treating patients. Patients also gain better access to their own health records and treatment options, making it more likely that they get the care they need in a positive experience. 

If patients are happier and experience better outcomes, physicians will experience less stress and more job satisfaction. With less work for physicians, in addition to healthier and more comfortable patients, the work environment for physicians can be significantly improved, reducing burnout in the long run. 

Burnout is a serious issue in any profession that should not go ignored. Especially for physicians who are relied upon by patients day after day, they must maintain a positive outlook and the proper motivation to care for patients effectively. As such, healthcare practices must be on the lookout for signs of burnout and take the proper measures to eliminate it. By cultivating a positive work environment where physicians have time to themselves and are given the proper tools for success, physicians can effectively treat patients at no risk to their own wellbeing.


Interested in embracing telehealth? 

Contact Us


About the author - Andrei Blaj

Co-founder of Medicai, serial technology entrepreneur. Andrei has over 15 years of experience in healthcare & technology. He graduated in Computer Science with a specialization in Computer Vision & AI and started his first company in 2007 while still a student.
Andrei worked with and founded several healthcare technology startups. His expertise is at the intersection between deep technology and healthcare.