Recovering From Burnout
This story is adapted from The Doctor Is Burned Out, by Jeff Moody.
I was surprised at how easily it broke in two. I had just emerged from my “frustration event” with the cracked halves of my keyboard, divided in the middle, with stray, homeless keys strewn across my desk.
The death-of-a-thousand cuts interaction I have with my electronic medical record (EMR) or, as we affectionately refer to it as “…that goddamn thing,” usually involves endless clicking, freezes, and crashes. I had been pushed past my breaking point. Before I knew it, my keyboard was in pieces on my desk. I thought to myself, “Is this what my work life has become?” I know of physicians who have smashed computers, screens, or walls while expressing their frustrations with an EMR. The endless loop, failed integration, and helpless, hopeless time sink that had become the documentation of my patient visits had finally gotten the better of me. And, to date, no randomized study has proven the utility of electronic medical records in improving healthcare or reducing costs.
In the previous year, I had two — count ’em two — reports filed at different hospitals for my behavior around frustration with expanding call coverage and hospital processes that were impeding patient care. In the previous twenty years? Zero. These seem to be symptoms of a larger problem: becoming burned out.
As Physicians, We All Walked Fairly Similar Paths to Get Where We Are.
We were pleasers, achievers, doing things well, getting the prize/award/medal and moving on to the next task. We were valedictorians, National Merit Scholars, sports and debate champions, leads in the school musicals. This process previously worked well; in fact, so well for me, I got a bonus present on my eighteenth birthday: I was diagnosed with a duodenal ulcer. I took cimetidine and was cured. Now, stress instead causes me backaches or headaches. I took a brief hiatus from stress in my early college career, which yielded a fair bit of fun but very mediocre academic results. Gentle reminders from my parents about lack of parental support for lack of direction refocused me on my goals. I regained the academic high ground and was admitted to medical school.
This was probably the most important event in my life, not because I was now going to be a doctor but because this is where I met my future wife. She was at the next cadaver in Anatomy. It was very romantic, I know. They had a male cadaver. We had a female cadaver. We got to look at each other’s parts. The cadavers’, that is. My wife has single-handedly saved me at every point in my life. She encouraged me to “do whatever I need to be happy,” including writing my book.
How Did I Get So Burned Out?
By the time of the keyboard event, I was definitely feeling burned out. I still love what I do, so what now? What next? How did I get so burned out? How do I fix this? Not my keyboard but my work/life balance, my pain points and my burned-out results. My keyboard was beyond repair. Hopefully, my life and my career were not. I was trying to discern why I kept getting more and more frustrated every day, every week, every month with the demands on my time for things having nothing to do with patient care. I resented the theft of my energy away from me being the best I could be when I was with patients, friends, and family.
Are you frustrated, fatigued, fed up? Looking for answers or solutions? If this describes how you are feeling, my book is for you.
In my book, you will learn:
· What burnout is
· If you are burned out
· Why to change
· How to change
· What to change
· How to make systemic changes
· How to deal with change
· How to build a new, more satisfying, happy, productive life
You will NOT learn:
· How to accept your current situation
· That change is not possible
· That you are not worth the effort to change
· That you are alone
As a board-certified, UCLA-trained urologist with more than twenty years of experience, I thought that burnout was something that either was not supposed to happen to me or that I would have been trained to handle. That was not the case. Our training and experience make us great doctors but poor agents of self-diagnosis, care, and change.
One of my main motivations for writing my book was to show physicians and anyone else feeling burned out that you can indeed take back your power and hope. There can be dark times during burnout, where you might lose hope for improving your situation and your life. You may, like one of my friends, feel like suicide is your only option. I am fighting for your life. Seeing that you have power and hope are important aspects of burnout treatment. You will be opening your mind and perception to the idea that you are not boxed in, that you have a broad range of gifts and abilities, and can improve, create, and grow into a new, enhanced identity.
There Are Many Options Available to You
There are many options available to you and essentially an infinite number of paths open for you to follow. These paths may not be the ones you thought you would be taking one, five, or ten years ago. They may or may not include medicine as a component. Open your mind to the possibilities. Throughout my book, we will be bringing a new “you” into being.
Asking you to potentially change your current situation is a major step. I know you spent ten to fifteen years, through undergrad, medical school, and residency getting to the point where you can do what you thought you wanted to do. Your “switching costs,” meaning the perceived or actual cost of changing what you do, are high. In business, and in medicine, those characteristics can be considered competitive advantages or “moats” preventing others from getting in and competing with you. However, from a burnout perspective, those moats may be keeping you inside. All I am asking is that you realize your life, moats and all, may be harming you.
As a doctor, who has been burned out, is now recovered and taught others how to recover from burnout, I can help you get there. You are going through a process of bringing this new “you” into being. This can be a disorienting process, as you transition from the current “you” to the new one. Through my book, you will be learning, doing exercises of assessment, taking action, and directing your life, wherever you want to go. This is what I still do every day.
Let’s start from where you are, define your path, and get you there: Recovered from Burnout.
To learn more about recovering from burnout, you can find The Doctor Is Burned Out on Amazon.
Dr. Jeff Moody is a board-certified, UCLA-trained, practicing urologist with over twenty years of experience. During that time, he’s survived at least six electronic medical record transitions, the Affordable Care Act, and practice consolidation. He’s also served on numerous local, state, and national healthcare organizations. Dr. Moody knows the warning signs and challenges of burnout personally, having lived through the diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. In addition to his book, Dr. Moody supports his colleagues by sponsoring a monthly Physician Burnout Support Group. For more information or to connect with Dr. Moody, visit JeffMoodyMD.com.