Attention to Doctor Burnout Benefits Patients and Doctors Alike

No one is immune to burnout, least of all people who work in high pressure jobs like medicine.

“You worry about it the whole time … so it's a very stressful and also isolating profession,” said Kumudhini Hendrix, an anesthesiologist at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.

“I think there's always been some awareness that people were susceptible to burnout in the face of stress,” said Dr. Darrell G. Kirch of Association of American Medical Colleges.

A recent Mayo Clinic study put physician burnout at 54 percent, concluding, “Burnout and satisfaction with work-life balance in U.S. physicians worsened from 2011 to 2014. More than half of U.S. physicians are now experiencing professional burnout.”

“Didn't realize it, but indeed I was,” Hendrix said. “A lot of depersonalization, emotional exhaustion to the point that if something doesn't go right, I would easily cry, easily get upset, of course not in front of anyone ... Got to tough it out.”

“I think the belief that you come to medicine to give care not to need care is very, very deeply rooted in the profession,” Kirch said.

Those attitudes appear to be changing for the sake of the health of doctors and patients.

“There actually is growing evidence that the problem of burnout among physicians has a negative impact on patient care,” Kirch said.

The Mind/Body Medicine program at the Georgetown University School of Medicine was created 15 years ago and focuses on mindfulness and meditation. It is available for medical students and faculty.

“Create a safe place, a non-judgmental place where people can come together and share,” said Nancy Harazdeck, who runs the program.

Sharing, meditation and activities aimed at mindfulness are all part of the program.

“Mind/Body Medicine is a 12-week program where you spend two hours each week with a group of the same 10 students and two faculty or physician facilitators, and the program always starts with everyone going around and checking in to tell you what's been going on in their life,” second-year Georgetown med student Juliana Rotter said.

Hendrix went through it and is now a co-facilitator in the program.

I think some of the most valuable things that came out of this for me is that you get so compassionate,” Hendrix said. “You get compassionate to yourself and you get compassionate to all the residents.”

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