Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Burnout & redemption

I didn't consciously decide to put my blog on hiatus these last few months.  I just got too busy one week to post, and then the next week, and then the next...

I admit to getting overwhelmed with some professional and personal challenges during this time.  Part of my unintentional blog hiatus was certainly related to those issues; they were the only things I could think about, yet I didn't want to share them on this blog.  The only problem was that those challenging situations were what I needed to write about.

The professional stuff, well, just isn't appropriate to share in a public space.  And, as for the personal stuff, I wish that I had the courage to share the details of my life with you all, but I don't.  I love reading the medical bloggers who are bold enough to let us peer into their lives, and  I'm grateful for their courage.  Through their stories, we gain a deeper appreciation of our humanity.  Blogging about the specifics of my personal issues, however, is just not for me.  I'll reassure you that my health and marriage are fine, and that will have to sate whatever curiosity you might have.  :)

As I look back on those four months, though, I recognize that more was going on than just challenging situations.  I became emotionally overloaded.  The trivial annoyances of my job became herculean, and I struggled to find the joy in being a doctor.  It took more and more emotional energy every day to rally up a positive facade with my patient care and teaching.  I felt like I was stuck in an impossibly deep rut.  I was burnt out. Would I ever love my job again?

These feelings are fairly prevalent among physicians.(1)  Primary care docs, especially, report higher levels of burnout than our specialist colleagues.(2)   So, what's a burnt out doc to do?

Well, from the JAMA article below: (1)

Strategies to Prevent Physician Burnout 
Influence happiness through personal values and choices
Spending time with family and friends
Religious or spiritual activity
Self-care (nutrition, exercise)
Adopting a healthy philosophical outlook
A supportive spouse or partner 
Control over environment: workload
Finding meaning in work and setting limits
Having a mentor
Having adequate administrative support systems

Easy, right? *insert sarcasm here*  These goals are great thinking about long term and the big picture, but what about for when you're stuck in that rut?  How do you clamber out?

I can only speak for myself, but I was pulled out of my rut this past weekend at the Family Medicine Education Consortium annual conference.  700+ family docs - and future family docs! - provided a whole lot of positive energy around our collective efforts to improve health for our patients and communities. They reminded me about why I felt called to this profession in the first place: I get to combine my science geek-ness with my drive to contribute to making the lives of those around me better.  I get to interact with amazing people who inspire me push the envelope even farther.  I get the joy of being a "friend with special knowledge" (3) to my patients, and I get to contribute to future family physicians' educations, ensuring that they will deliver quality health care to the generations to come.

For the long term, those strategies above are worth championing, but for the short term, try some time away from the office with your tribe.

Good-bye, rut.  I'm back.

(3) The kind of doctor John Steinbeck wanted:


  1. Hey Jen, I often find that FMEC and STFM meetings do help re-energize and revive. But I can definitely relate to your line of thought. Glad to hear that things are ok with health and home. Sorry I couldn't make it out to Cleveland last month, but I do hope to come down to Baltimore. I need to do my re-certification exam in April, and do a review couse just prior. But, my husband and I just booked an Alaska cruise for Aug 2013 and I've very excited. Next big trip coming up is Ireland over the winter holidays but I don't count that as a true vacation. Take care- Julie

  2. Wow, Julie - lots of busy-ness coming up, but much of it sounds good. Aug 2013 will come before you know it. :) Appreciate your comments and hope to see you in Baltimore!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.