5 Myths About Physician Burnout

By August 28, 2019February 19th, 2021Experience, Physician, Wellbeing
Physician Burnout Myths


Burnout is caused by individual, cultural and organizational factors.

Burnout is caused by individual, cultural and organizational factors.

Physician burnout and depression is a widespread issue in the US. A little bit of professional fatigue may seem inconsequential, but in the field of medicine the stakes are high. Day after day, year after year, shouldering the burden of the medical profession can lead some into a detrimental state. It would be easy to put the impetus on the individual alone to remedy the problem, but it’s important to remember that the physicianis only one part of a more complicated healthcare ecosystem. There are many cultural and organizational factors at play. We encourage you to read more about this in our whitepaper on engagement and burnout prevention.

Here are 5 Myths About Physician Burnout:

Myth 1: Burnout is someone else’s problem, it can’t affect you

Burnout can affect anyone, and ignoring the problem is just about the worst way to address it. According to Reuters, roughly 2/3 of doctors in the US have experienced burnout and/or depression.[1]This doesn’t mean these doctors are any less compassionate or dedicated. On the contrary, sometimes the most personally invested can be the hardest hit. The emotional investment takes a heavy toll.

Myth 2: You have to do it all

As physicians you are trained to be the smartest, the hardest working, and the best. During med school and residency, you are encouraged to push yourself to the limit. That can only go so far. As physicians you cannot do it all and you don’t need to. You want to be there for every case, but it’s important to take time for yourself. Take a weekend off. Work with other physicians in your area to create a network of support while you are on vacation. Having a trusted colleague on standby can help you take some time away and you can be confident knowing that your patients are in good hands.

Myth 3: Burnout and depression only affects you

Physician Burnout Assessment ToolPhysician burnout is much more than a personal problem. Doctors experiencing symptoms of burnout and depression report increased agitation, lower patient engagement and even irritation with patients and colleagues.[2]These manifestations are likely to affect your professional reputation. Many surveyed physicians also admitted that symptoms of burnout and depression may have contributed to medical errors they would otherwise not have made. Add to that the propensity for self-medication and you can have a recipe for professional disaster. If you are experiencing symptoms of burnout, it’s important for your own health and the health of your patients that you reach out and get ahead of the issue.

Myth 4: Mental health care is not worth the risk

Nearly 40% of physicians surveyed reported that concerns over licensing would make them hesitant to seek treatment. However, burnout and depression, if left unchecked, can cause much more damage to your professional reputation than timely and appropriate care. Dr. Liselotte Dyrbye, Professor of Medical Education and Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, found that a history of treatment for mental illness shows no indication of potential harm to patients.[3]The medical community agrees. Professional organizations have been calling for licensing boards to limit questions about mental health to current issues only. This will significantly decrease the professional stigma of having a mental health diagnosis.

Myth 5: Quitting is the only answer

Maybe you are active in the throes of burnout and thinking seriously about quitting clinical work. While this may be the right move for you, it is simply not necessary for most physicians.[4]With appropriate care and action, many doctors are able to redesign their professional environment enough to overcome burnout. Work with your employer to see if you can find a way to bring your current position more in line with your needs.  Think about your work-life balance, patient quotas or other factors that may be contributing. If that doesn’t work, consider other settings or specialties that may be better suited for you. Do you need fewer hours, less critical cases, or more time to connect with patients? Don’t be afraid to seek out these positions.

After careful consideration, you may decide that you do need to leave clinical work. That’s ok, too. There are plenty of well-paying opportunities for a physician outside of the clinical setting where you can continue to use your education and experience.

You owe it to yourself to get the same care that you would prescribe for your patients. Many hospitals and clinics have implemented resources for doctors. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of these. They are there for your benefit. If you don’t have access to that in your practice, think about talking with a therapist or joining a support group. At CTI we want to help in any way we can. We offer a comprehensive approach to preventing clinician burnout.

Contact us online or give us a call at (813) 333-1401. 

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[1]Larkin, M. Physician burnout takes a toll on U.S. patients. Jan. 17, 2018. Accessed from: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-physicians-burnout/physician-burnout-takes-a-toll-on-u-s-patients-idUSKBN1F621U

[2]Larkin, M. Physician burnout takes a toll on U.S. patients. Jan. 17, 2018. Accessed from: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-physicians-burnout/physician-burnout-takes-a-toll-on-u-s-patients-idUSKBN1F621U

[3]Cohen, R. Doctors may fear losing their license for seeking mental health care. Oct. 10, 2017. Accessed from: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-mentalhealth-physician-licensu/doctors-may-fear-losing-their-license-for-seeking-mental-health-care-idUSKBN1CF2N9

[4]Root Causes of Physician Burnout – Interview with Dr. Dike Drummond. Accessed from: http://vitalpe.net/causes-of-physician-burnout/


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