Dr. Hillary Bohler
Delayed gratification. Thanks to our well-developed pre-frontal cortexes, we have mastered this concept in medicine. Many of us have dedicated a decade or more, spending long hours studying, or in a hospital, with success defined by academic performance. Self-sacrifice is common, including putting off relationships or having children in later years. Our personal time is greatly impacted by patient care, teaching, research and administrative responsibilities. It is difficult to unplug from emails, texts, phone calls and pagers.
Feeling burned out is common, but not normal. The estimated prevalence rate of burnout among residents is as high as 50 per cent. The WHO International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) defines burnout as a “state of vital exhaustion” and includes emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and a perceived lack of personal accomplishment. Symptoms can be physical or psychological. Why does this matter? Because, at the end of the day, we will suffer, as will our patients.
Burnout is best approached through prevention, by maintaining individual wellness. Wellness is not simply avoiding the challenges of residency, but rather it is about retaining (or regaining) control of your life in light of the high demands. Physicians need to develop tangible strategies that encourage work-life balance.
Common sense recommendations may be helpful and include self-care (e.g. exercise, healthy eating, meditation), prioritizing sleep, taking regular vacations or a break from technology, learning how and when to say no, hiring help around the home and setting limits for yourself. However, we all realize that yoga alone will not fix burnout, nor will continued progress in our collective agreements (albeit welcome). Just as broccoli takes a while to steam; so we need to learn to ask for help when we need it.
The nature of the profession demands rigorous training and our patients deserve the end result—excellent care from a competent, safe and healthy practitioner. Expectations will remain high throughout our careers, so let’s start now! Self-care is not selfish. Take time to do what makes your soul happy!