Self-Care Doesn’t Fix Systemic Burnout

Don’t get me wrong, self-care IS very important. But no amount of mindfulness, yoga, healthy eating, stress management, life coaching you do (and this is coming from a professional life coach), it will not change burnout and suicide rates long-term unless there are fundamental changes in the culture of healthcare and the systems we, as physicians, function as a part of.

If you didn’t know already, there is no magic pill to fix burnout (surprise, right). But I back the model presented by Stanford Medicine WellMD Professional Fulfillment Model that only ⅓ of the burnout equation is personal. Working in a culture of wellness and having systems of efficiency are the other ⅔ part of the equation. (Check it out HERE

When I walk down hospital hallways or office corridors and each person I encounter either is consumed in their computer screen or looks like a walking zombie, there’s a problem. The people that fill hospitals, offices, ORs, ERs, etc day in and day out doing the vital work of caring for others are drowning, stressed out, totally numb.

Droves of people are dragging themselves out of bed to drudge through another day of work. Others are wiping the tears away on the drive in because they are so distressed. Many try to calm a panic attack before walking through the hospital doors. THIS IS NOT OK.

I call organizations to take care of their most important resource, their people. And, the message of “make more time for you”, take a yoga class (sacrificing your lunch hour), or meditate 2-3 times a day plus meet each patient with a smile, is not just impossible but irresponsible because remember ⅔ of the problem are the work environment and culture. 

Telling healthcare providers and workers to improve their self-care without systemic changes is just rearranging chairs on the sinking deck of the Titanic. When self-care feels like more work, it is exactly that. 

Let me give a few examples that would lighten the load of this sinking ship:

  • Acknowledge the problem openly
  • Assess problems well
  • Removal of productivity based pay
  • Building alternative work schedules
  • Add more diversity in the workforce and in leadership roles
  • Evaluating the behavior of your senior leadership
  • Determining if the organization’s mission statement and core values are actually alive and exhibited 
  • Build trust back between the C-suite and physicians
  • Alter call schedules
  • Rebuilding collegiality
  • Transparency in compensation  
  • Remove pressuring from payer mix
  • Scribes and other user to unburden physicians

Other articles to read if this intrigues you:

The Business of Health Care Depends on Exploiting Doctors and Nurses

One resource seems infinite and free: the professionalism of caregivers.

By Dr. Danielle Ofri

Young female doctors are at high risk for burnout and “self-care” is not the answer

By Caroline Yao & Jacquelyn Corley

Burnout Among Health Care Professionals: A Call to Explore and Address This Underrecognized Threat to Safe, High-Quality Care

By Lotte N. Dyrbye, Tait D. Shanafelt, Christine A. Sinsky, Pamela F. Cipriano, Jay Bhatt, Alexander Ommaya, Colin P. West, and David Meyers