10 tips for healthcare workers combating burnout

Illustration - physician watching cyclist

Pediatrician Dr. Trevor Cabrera shares the 10 things he’s found that bring him relief from post-pandemic burnout.

Among the growing topics of interest in medical practice for the current generation is the difficult yet necessary conversation of burnout, particularly post-pandemic burnout. Post-pandemic burnout has left healthcare providers feeling exhausted and depleted. They’re also feeling increased mental distance from their job, feelings cynicism relating to one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy.

Why we suffer from burnout

The demands of a job combined with mental and physical exhaustion in a world of ever-increasing loss of autonomy can sometimes create feelings of apathy and moments of breakdown. On top of it all, physicians are feeling that large systems are only focused on productivity and profit. And denial or avoidance of such feelings or stressors may lead to even worse outcomes.

After all, taking care of someone’s life is stressful enough. And if you add on increased demands for productivity and tasks without more time, higher patient volumes without more help, and administrative waste without reason, anyone will reach a breaking point, sooner or later.

First step: Awareness of burnout

But the first step in being able to find a way out of such feelings is to be aware when they arise. In the changing world of medicine in the United States, burnout has become a common topic of conversation. More introspection and awareness has likely led to a higher diagnosis rate and increasing concern that these feelings affect not only our own personal health but also patient care. While many hospitals and institutions are having a growing dialogue about burnout, many still lack the drive to make constructive changes to alleviate these feelings for the workforce.

Finding a solution to burnout

So, while we await bigger changes to prevent burnout from a systematic perspective, what can we do? We recognize that we face these inevitable feelings of burnout attributed to being overworked, underappreciated, and generally overwhelmed — but now what?

I’ve found ways to help combat burnout. Here are 10 things I commit to doing, and it’s helped!

Spend more time with patients

By and large, one of the biggest overall complaints from medical providers across the U.S. is not enough patient contact. Finding ways to spend more time interacting with patients can help to remind us of why we practice medicine in the first place.

Develop regular healthy stress-reduction strategies

Avoid unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and stress eating. Meditation, deep breathing, concentration on mindfulness, yoga, and exercise have been really effective for me.

Spend quality time with friends and family

Humans are meant to interact with each other, especially in non-work-related matters. Often, overall stress is reduced by maintaining a community outside of the workplace.

When you’re off, be off

In an ideal world, the best solution would be to take more time off. But, as many healthcare providers work extreme hours, this may not always be tangible. Therefore, sometimes it’s necessary to capitalize on rare moments of freedom to turn off social media and cellphones and completely unplug. For me, working locum tenens helps me do just this.

Make self-care a priority

Simple healthy habits such as making sure to drink enough water and focus on nutrition have been shown to affect general mood and mental health. Take time to meal plan and avoid fast food and alcohol.

Maintain hobbies and leisurely past times

A lot of us had to leave our hobbies by the wayside because we dedicate so much of our time to work. But reclaiming those hobbies can help with perspective and balance our stress with self-enjoyment.

Reflect regularly and respectfully

Often, we move so fast from one place to the next that we don’t take the time to slow down and admire what we’ve done. Taking time to actively stop and look back on a day or a week with open, non-judgmental eyes helps to revive purpose.

Talk it out with trusted colleagues

There’s something to be said about solidarity for shared frustrations. Talking to others about similar feelings can create a therapeutic vent for discomfort that arises day to day, especially in situations that cannot be controlled from upper management

Talk it out with a pro

Therapy is often undervalued. Even if you’re the best at your trade, you may not be the best at everything. A professional looking from the outside in can help sort through and even out a myriad of feelings.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

An adage as old as time, remembering the big picture and recognizing what is and is not important can make all the difference. You work hard, and you’re only human, so don’t be so hard on yourself. This too will pass, and you’ll come out on the other side just fine.

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