Tackling Burnout in Your Practice

Burnt Out Physician

Burnout is a significant problem facing the healthcare industry, and it’s a concern practices and healthcare organizations cannot afford to ignore. Provider and staff burnout affects safety, quality of care, the patient experience and financial performance. So how can you help your employees—and yourself—maintain the passion, focus and energy required to deliver optimal care?

Resilience experts Gary R. Simonds, MD, MHCDS, and Wayne M. Sotile, PhD, authors of the new book Thriving in Healthcare: A Positive Approach to Reclaim Balance and Avoid Burnout in Your Busy Life

, note that minimizing stressors is typically not an option in the world of healthcare, but learning new coping strategies is.

“Healthcare will always be stressful,” says Dr. Sotile. “That isn’t going to change. But if we can give people the tools to build up their resilience, they’ll find they’re able to thrive even in really difficult circumstances.”

Here are some examples from their book of ways you can foster resilience in your workplace:

Grant permission for self-compassion and self-care. This is a critical factor in building and sustaining resilience. You will need to normalize the concept of self-compassion and self-care, because many people in healthcare wear their self-neglect as a badge of honor. Notice what makes you feel good or bad; what angers and excites you; and what brings you joy, peace, wonder or meaning. Make micro- and macro-adjustments as needed.

Nourish and cherish relationships. We are social creatures, but the intense work of healthcare can be isolating, and our fatigue after work hours isolates us further. Because we are tired and drained, we may stop going out and developing new friendships. It’s critical to stop this cycle and fully commit to nourishing your relationships—with coworkers as well as loved ones.

Debrief the challenges of the day and celebrate the uplifts. Sharing hurtful experiences from the dark side of your work life—disappointments, embarrassment, confrontations, resilience breakdowns, etc.—can build empathy and lessen the pain. When you share (or listen to colleagues as they share), focus on the effect of the experience(s) rather than the details. How did it feel? What were the lessons learned? How could the storyteller have managed the events or his or her responses to them differently? Likewise, make a habit of seeking, collecting and reflecting on daily uplifts. This is not just a feel-good ploy. Multiple studies support the concept that “collecting” uplifts can significantly boost well-being and counter psychological distress.

Demystify and partner with leadership. Work on breaking the “us versus them” mentality. Don’t just take comfort in the notion that there’s a team dedicated to facilitating your work efforts, but befriend and engage those teammates in your efforts to provide high-quality, high-efficiency work. Seek to understand your leadership’s infrastructure. Learn how decisions are made and enacted, and identify the key players in your sphere of function. Take any opportunity to meet and chat with them and educate them on your role. When there’s a problem, don’t rail at your administrators. Calmly discuss problems with them and bring a selection of possible solutions.

Take “humanity breaks”. If you feel captive to the world of near-constant multi-tasking and endless demands happening under artificial lights and accented by unpleasant sights and smells, take short breaks to focus on positivity, quiet, laughter, fresh air and humanity. Enjoy a brief break in the morning and another respite in the afternoon for coffee, chatting with colleagues or meditation. If possible, consider a weekly extended humanity break, where you step away from responsibilities for an hour or two in the middle of the workday. Leave the premises, have lunch, take a walk, soak up some sun or run a pleasant errand.

Create schedules and stick to them. In the face of utter chaos, creating a schedule gives you a sense of control and can improve your efficiency and efficacy. Buy a planner and break the workday into concentrated bundles of related work. In your off-time schedule include meals, self-care, exercise, reading, studying, play, chores, intimacy and sleep. Repeat the mantra, “If it is not planned, it will not likely occur.”

Steer clear of perfectionism. If nothing is ever good enough, you may overthink and fret compulsively over every detail of everything you do. Make an effort to eliminate the concept of perfection from your thinking and from your approach to your work. Beware of signs of maladaptive perfectionism, such as chronic procrastination, being overly cautious and thorough in tasks, excessive checking, and avoiding trying new things and risking making mistakes. Develop, instead, a quest for excellence. You can strive for success while allowing yourself to be less than perfect.

Master critical communication skills. In healthcare, you will have to have difficult conversations with coworkers, supervisors, administrators, patients and families, and all of these require critical communication skills. To handle these situations, engage in team role-playing sessions to practice challenging critical conversations. Practice scenarios such as breaking bad news, working with an uncooperative patient, speaking with a hostile physician, taking a difficult phone call, dealing with under-performing coworkers, etc.

Explore your team’s internal dynamics. Host regular team meetings to discuss dynamics and work on team resilience-building. Make a group agreement that all that is said and shared in the sessions is privileged. Open up a discussion on internal team dynamics, relationships, conflicts, idiosyncrasies, communications, likes and dislikes, concerns, successes and so forth. Remember: Teams that continually improve are fueled by members complimenting and affirming each other at least three times as frequently as they criticize.

Above all, thriving is about owning what you can control and making a positive impact whenever you can, note Drs. Simonds and Sotile. “That is the mindset that should be taught, modeled and supported,” says Dr. Sotile. “That and gratitude. Despite its stress, its imperfections, and the emotional pain and exhaustion it sometimes brings, working in healthcare is a privilege. It is work with great richness and meaning. The more we remember that, the more we will thrive.”

Thriving in Healthcare: A Positive Approach to Reclaim Balance and Avoid Burnout in Your Busy Life is available on www.amazon.com.

Image copyright iStock.com/wutwhanfoto

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