Letters to the Editor
Physician Burnout or Physician Resiliency
After reading the article titled “Physician Burnout or Physician Resiliency?” I have come to the conclusion that the issue of physician burnout will not be solved without completely revolutionizing the way our profession views the problem. Most proposals look at the problem of physician burnout as a physician problem. The article adds to this myth by identifying resiliency on the part of a physician as a solution. Such solutions simply continue to enable failure by decision makers in health care by giving them the tools to maintain the status quo and act as if something is being done to address the issue.
The reality of emergency physician burnout is that it is a workplace issue caused by a number of factors: understaffed emergency departments, difficult to use electronic medical records, slow computers and networks, unresponsive consultants, the misapplication of customer service based management philosophies, and malpractice issues. Undoubtedly there are others.
If factory workers suffered from poor morale because of an unsafe work environment, no one would recommend that they be more resilient. OSHA would mandate that the issues be corrected and management would see that it was done. Until we come to see physician burnout as a natural response by highly skilled, motivated, and intelligent individuals to workplace safety issues, nothing will change.
If you are feeling burned out, it’s absolutely essential to realize it’s not a “you problem.” Your hospital is what is falling short. Most emergency physicians lack the ability to make even the smallest of improvements to the environment they work in, so voting with your feet is the absolute best thing you can do to address burnout and secure your future career. When you do, following the three guidelines at the end of the article will help you in your search.
— Milind R. Limaye, DO FAAEM
First, thanks for writing. I love hearing from readers of Common Sense and wish more would write. Second, I couldn’t agree more with your statement, “If you are feeling burned out, it’s absolutely essential to realize it’s not a ‘you problem’. Your hospital is what is falling short. Most emergency physicians lack the ability to make even the smallest of improvements to the environment they work in...”
As I pointed out in “Responsibility and Authority” in the July/Aug 2014 issue of Common Sense, because so many emergency physicians have lost control of their departments and lack any authority to change or improve them, but are still held responsible for what happens in them, they work in an environment designed to create what psychologists call “experimental neurosis” and cause burnout. Every case of emergency physician burnout I have seen in my over 30 years of practice was caused, not by some character defect or psychological flaw in the physician, but by a pathologically defective work environment that was created when control of the ED was taken away from the doctors and nurses who care for patients there, and turned over to bureaucrats and administrators. When good doctors are put in an environment where they are prevented from delivering the best possible care as efficiently as possible, they become frustrated and unhappy. When they are held responsible for the flawed department that was forced on them and that they are powerless to change, or harassed over meaningless metrics that distract from actual quality, they burnout. The fundamental truth about burnout is this: burnout is the normal response of a good emergency physician to a malfunctioning ED, when that physician has none of the authority needed to correct the malfunction, but is held responsible for it. If we want to reduce physician burnout, we must restore physicians’ professional autonomy.
— The Editor