Despite reports of burned out doctors abandoning their careers, many other doctors simply want some time off -- perhaps a year or more -- to take a breather, spend time with family, or take a sabbatical abroad. The AMA warns that leaving clinical practice for an extended period of time should not be taken lightly: "Lack of retraining before reentry raises questions about patient safety and the clinical competence of reentered physicians." Doctors need to be aware that, "getting back in the game is expensive, time-consuming, and sometimes nearly impossible. So before you take a hiatus from medicine, ask yourself--can you afford it?" (medpage.com)
Recent efforts to make hospitals safer seem to be paying off. The goal is an ambitious one, to say the least: to reduce hospital-acquired conditions by 1.8 million from 2014 to 2019, a 20% reduction that will save 19.1 billion dollars in hospital costs (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services). Optimism is growing that this goal may be attainable.
The high incidence of depression among physicians can no longer be ignored. Several recent reports show that every segment of the profession is at risk, from medical students and residents in training to mid-career physicians and those nearing retirement.
One study found that approximately 25% of medical students and residents suffer from clinically significant symptoms of depression (stat news.com). Another shows that both men and women are highly susceptible to depression during their internship year, but that women are at significantly higher risk than men (healthday.com). The three biggest challenges they face are (1) work-life balance, (2) dealing with time pressures, and (3) fear of failure or making a serious mistake (2016 Medscape survey).
“First, do no harm.” It’s one of the most well-known oaths physicians take when they graduate from medical school. Unfortunately, physicians are often exempt from this statement when considering their own health. Not by their own choosing, but as a result of the culture of medicine in which they’re immersed.
Do you ever doubt that you're making a difference? If this feeling crosses your mind very often, you're more likely to experience burnout, regardless of your occupation. With the rapid and dramatic changes to their role identity, physicians are especially prone to this condition, characterized by emotional exhaustion and a low sense of accomplishment.
If you are a physician facing burnout, you're not alone. According to the 2017 Medscape Lifestyle Report, 51% of physicians say they are burnt out. Burnout can manifest itself in many ways, such as loss of enthusiasm for work, low sense of personal accomplishment, or feelings of cynicism (Medscape Lifestyle Report 2017: Race and Ethnicity, Bias and Burnout, 2017).