As social beings, humans typically make connections with others to maintain personal happiness, as well as professional satisfaction. We often belong to several like-minded groups with shared experiences. These are our “communities.” For medical professionals, this is no different. As burnout nears epidemic levels in some medical environments, community can be a powerful tool to help providers deal with — and even prevent — burnout.
Burnout is the effect felt after prolonged experiences of stress. It is an extended state of exhaustion due to heightened emotional, physical and mental overload.
“It’s important to remember that burnout has both internal and external causes, and both can be extremely impactful,” said Brian Rosenberg, PhD, Director of Training and Development for MEDNAX. “Every individual also experiences and manages stress differently. That’s why it’s critical to understand our own natural response to stress, and then take stock of the possible external factors in our lives — the things happening outside of work that we may be internalizing.”
Medical professionals are at an increased risk of experiencing burnout due to the nature of their work environment. Long hours, limited breaks, administrative responsibilities and high-risk cases that may have poor outcomes — these are some just of the many factors that can contribute to burnout.
“The majority of our clinicians work in high-stress environments — intensive care units, operating rooms, emergency departments to name a few. These settings require critical thinking under pressure; decisions are constantly made that impact life, death and disability,” said Jorge Del Toro, MD, Chief Medical Officer for MEDNAX Women’s and Children’s Services, who spent his early career as a pediatric intensivist and medical director at a pediatric trauma center. “While rewarding and meaningful, this work is hard, and with the added non-clinical pressures of medicine today, contribute to clinicians going down a path on the spectrum of what is commonly referred to as burnout.”
Burnout should not go unattended. It can be linked to increased medical errors, personal and team dissatisfaction, and other negative impacts on patients, providers and clinical teams. In its most severe form, it can been linked to depression and suicide.
“By being honest with ourselves about how our individual responses to stress affect us both emotionally and physically, and how all of the realities of our lives outside of work can compound our professional pressures, we may be able crack the burnout code. What’s key here is learning ways to compartmentalize the work factors from the personal factors and then finding long-term ways to cope with it all,” said Dr. Rosenberg.
Building a community of support is a great starting point for developing healthy coping mechanisms that can help combat the effects of burnout. The benefits of a supportive community include:
- A sense of belonging: We often form an instant connection with others who can personally relate to our own experiences. Not only can you share in the challenges, but also in your love and commitment to patient care. Together, you are stronger.
- A healthy sounding board: Who else can provide better advice than others who have dealt with similar issues in the past or are currently working through the same challenges? You can learn a great deal from the advice and personal experiences of others. Talking about individual stressors and coping mechanisms as a group — even a small one — can be helpful and even inspiring.
- Validation of feelings: A community understands your pain because they’ve felt it too. Realizing others share some of the same negative or challenging feelings as you, and learning how they were able to cope, may help you deal with your own. Talking with others who either are currently experiencing — or have previously experienced — burnout may also provide you with advice on healthy coping mechanisms. Tapping into your community can also rekindle the joys of practicing medicine. The enthusiasm and positive stories of others can be contagious – reminding you of why you chose medicine in the first place as well as other positive motivators.
Thankfully, opportunities to become part of a community in a clinical setting are plentiful. Consider the following ideas to build or add to your community of support:
- Look around the room
Build relationships with fellow team members as well as those in other hospital departments. Getting to know your colleagues better, and letting them get to know you, can lead to a more productive and respectful work environment.
- Become involved in a mentorship program
Whether you are seeking the wisdom and guidance of a mentor or want to invest in the future of your specialty by supporting a recent graduate, a mentorship program can be a rewarding experience.
- Join a group (formal or informal)
Becoming involved in a local group is a great way to build your community and interact with others in a meaningful way outside of your work environment. Don’t feel restricted to professional groups only; there are a variety of community group activities that can be beneficial. Types of groups to consider include:
- Peer support
- National or local medical associations
- Community advisory boards or committees
- Intermural sport teams or clubs
- Book clubs
- Local charity activities
“Although I transitioned into management more than a decade ago, I still remember the stress and the emotions of being in practice,” said Dr. Del Toro. “As a physician-led organization, MEDNAX leadership offers a unique perspective. We understand what it is like to be on call in the hospital, up at three in the morning, taking care of critically-ill patients, calming distraught families and interacting with administration. We still remember and we understand it well.”
MEDNAX is a leading provider of clinical services, including maternal-fetal, newborn, pediatric, anesthesia and radiology, with a 40-year history of success. We offer a variety of career opportunities, including full-time, part-time and locums.