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

Errin Weisman DO

Errin Weisman, DO is the self-proclaimed wellness guru on Authentic Medicine. She is a life coach, podcaster and fierce advocate for wellness in medicine. She faced professional burnout early in her career and speaks openly about her story in order to help others, particularly female physicians and working moms, know they are not alone. Dr. Weisman wholeheartedly believes to be a healer, you must first fill your own cup. She lives and practices life coaching and medicine in rural Southwestern Indiana, loves her roles as farmer’s wife, athlete and mother of three.You can find out more about Dr. Weisman on her podcast Doctor Me First, her website or hang out with her on social media @truthrxs. Her podcast is “Doctor Me First”. 

  6 comments for “Self-Care Doesn’t Fix Systemic Burnout

  1. July 8, 2019 at 2:47 pm

    Every doctor who can must declare independence. The more who get off the treadmill, the more likely situations will improve. The more who are trapped, the worse for all.

  2. Pat
    July 8, 2019 at 8:10 am

    Things are too far gone. The only real power physicians retain is the ability to refuse to work. I don’t like collective solutions, but since medicine has been collectivized, that is the only option for the radical systemic change that could reverse the conditions causing burnout.

    And since the great majority of doctors simply can’t refuse to work due to economic obligations, the only realistic options are:
    1) If one is a student, stop, bail out, and go into happier, more honest work.
    2) Those who can, go into DPC
    3) For the rest, work hard, save, and hope to retire in time to enjoy some productive years.

    • Kurt
      July 10, 2019 at 4:29 pm

      They say only 41% of IM positions were filled last year.
      Wonder how the FP residencies fared although they probably cut positions to make the numbers look better.
      I hope most med students find out in time and vote with their feet.

  3. R Stuart
    July 8, 2019 at 7:47 am

    You think this problem can be solved at the organization level.

    It can’t.

  4. Steve O'
    July 7, 2019 at 11:23 pm

    Much of the 20th century demonstrated the effect of dehumanization and alienation of the world’s societies. We have done nothing to reverse the massive movement against humans, and in favor of inhuman entities such as corporations, governments, inhuman entities. Nearly eighty years ago, Charlie Chaplin offered us a great speech about humanity in the movie The Great Dictator. Yet, we continue, year by year, to drift into passivity. The death of American medicine is merely one small part of it. That is why yoga and pep-talks will not solve the problem.

  5. Rick
    July 7, 2019 at 11:34 am

    The reference to the relationships between “the C-Suite and the physicians” is just so horrible. Made me cringe. It is true. But in 5 words illustrates the world we are in today. Tragic.

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