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Coaching Physicians Through Burnout

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The Medscape Report on physician burnout and depression rates in 2022 showed an increase of 5% from the 2020 figures to 42% in 2021. The ER physician burnout rates showed the highest peaks at 60%, a 17% increase from the 43% registered in 2020. 

The burnout rates for male and female physicians increased from 36% to 41% and 51% to 56%, respectively. The statistics will never end, but burnout can. By coaching physicians through burnout, you can gradually reduce burnout rates and improve doctors’ life and career.

Physician Burnout Explained

Burnout is more pronounced in the medical field among physicians. There is a lot of demand for healthcare, from aging baby boomers to young patients requiring different treatments. On the one hand, an acute shortage of doctors results in a supply gap of physicians.

Consequently, physicians in the U.S healthcare system suffer under chronic work pressure, which is relentless. Also, the corporatization of healthcare facilities leads to increased work stress in the form of work targets to achieve. Administrative and regulatory burdens accentuate the work pressures. 

The constant flow of patients and the paucity of doctors lead to many doctors doing overtime to meet the healthcare system’s demands. The debt overhang and financial stress emanating from it do not help matters. Whether or not we like it, we must knuckle down and achieve our mandated work completion schedule. 

This has the undesirable outcome of disrupting our work-life balance and reducing time spent with our families. The bundling of all the above factors leads to chronic symptoms of exhaustion and  detachment. The relentless work pressure leads us to feel a lack of a sense of personal accomplishment and self-actualization. 

When we suffer burnout, we are unable to perform our jobs and provide the best patient care. We feel depressed, alone with a lack of a sympathetic support system, and frequently lose our temper with our family, children, and even patients. 

We also fear the stigma of our peers and bosses knowing about our burnout symptoms and try to conceal them. Fearing adverse professional consequences and the Medical Board becoming aware of our problems, we try to handle them on our own. As we battle along, we sink into deeper depression and aggravate the conditions of our burnout. 

Our healthcare system is very demanding, and physician burnout stress is a natural consequence.  Long hours, the emotional intensity of the practice, and decreased physician time with every patient result in our becoming emotionally exhausted, with a reduced sense of achievement. 

Some of us feel so discouraged by our burnout conditions that we even consider quitting the medical profession in which we have invested so much time and financial resources. 

We also have the burden of medical debts, which means our alternative career choices may provide  insufficient financial resources to facilitate paying off our debts. Remember,  For every physician who leaves the practice, the other physicians in the ecosystem have to bear the excess load. This results in  a cascading effect of physician burnout on other physicians working in the healthcare field. 

We have to learn how to manage our work-life commitments, achieve work-life balance, plan our financial savings better and get out of the overhang of debt. We have to do this while continuing in our profession. It cannot be achieved single-handedly. 

Help from a physician coach to take us through the various steps of learning to better manage work pressures, reducing our burnout symptoms, and introducing positivity into our life is essential. After all, we are neither perfect nor superhuman.   Once we concede this fact, this is the first step in the building block of reducing our burnout.

Causes of Physician Burnout

The Covid pandemic has added to the workload of the doctors and medical staff. Other causes that are attributed to the burnout of physicians include

  • Reduced staff numbers.
  • Overwhelming bureaucratic demands and administrative work.
  • Isolation and loneliness in their medical work
  • Hostility towards health workers
  • Record keeping complexity
  • Mandated adherence to standard guidelines
  • High patient targets
  • Loss of autonomy regarding patient treatments
  • The digital nature of work resulting the treatment of the data rather than the patient
  • A healthcare world with a surfeit of rules from insurance companies, the government, and healthcare institutions.
  • Asymmetric reward and punishment systems
  • Electronic Health record woes have evolved into data collection exercises.
  • Sense of powerlessness when faced with the circumstances of poor patients.

Symptoms of Physician Burnout

When you suffer from burnout, you suffer from overwhelming feelings of negativity and emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion. When you suffer from such feelings of loss of career purpose and disinterest in work, you suffer from burnout.

A solution for Physician Burnout is a Physician Coach: 

A physician coach provides self-motivation to act and leads you through the process of self-discovery. With a coach, you discover the answers for yourself and initiate the action to correct your path and career. He does not, however, provide you with ready-made answers. 

Physician coaching is a personal career that works on a self-directed, self-learning model, using cognitive therapy, positive psychology, change principles, and adult learning behavior. Physician coaching begins with the assumption that physicians are individuals who are highly knowledgeable about their own personal and professional development. They force you to focus and understand and define your problems in your words.  

They do not provide a ready-made formula. but they encourage you in the process of achieving a better work-life balance and figuring out solutions to your problems. You analyze and determine what works best for you, how you can better cope with the work pressures, and take time to play with your children. They help you to strategize your plan of action.  Once you have a workable formula, they provide you with constant encouragement to stick to your action plan. Through constant repetition, this becomes an ingrained part of your work day, and your burnout becomes a thing of the past.  This creates a pathway to a more holistic way of living. 

How Can A Physician Coach Help Deal With Your Burnout?

Physicians suffering from burnout need a solution-based approach to deal with their burnout. It enables physicians to recapture their sense of medical purpose, satisfaction, and self-control in their medical work. 

Coaching helps you in the process of creating self-directed change. It involves assisted coaching and mentoring physicians to enable an in-depth analysis of the causes of burnout, enabling you to think with clarity and greater depth and help find solutions to your problems. 

This will allow everyone suffering from burnout to find happiness and a well-adjusted work-life balance with their families, develop a more resilient way of working in healthcare, and greater fulfillment in their lives.

Do You Want To Become A Coach for Physicians? Here Are the Steps (Mandatory)

As a coach for physicians suffering from burnout, you need to follow the following steps:

  • Detailed understanding of the problem: To help someone find a solution to his problem, you need a detailed understanding of it. After understanding the problem, you can proceed with diagnosis and recommendation of the adequate next steps. In a burnout situation, focusing on positive steps for the future rather than focusing on the problem helps a great deal in creating a solution. Rather than finding a problem solution, you have to help the distressed individual move forward with his solution.
  • Don’t dwell on the past: Dwelling on the past doesn’t help to solve the problem. Focusing on the future course of outcomes may help you in the process.
  • Baby steps: Taking baby steps rather than making significant changes help and bring about more improvement. You should support the individual to take small steps. This can help in faster goal achievement. Optimal solutions cannot be achieved in single steps. This process is known as scaling. Taking small, meaningful steps will help the person feel he is in control of the situation and achieve more. Imagine creating a scale that is restricted from 1- 10. It is easier to progress from 2 to a 4 on the scale rather than jump straight to a 9. 
  • Goals achievement should reasonably be under your control: It is always easy to define the       goal in terms of someone else’s action rather than your own. You should hear his goals and set them on a pre-set scale based on your methods.  This way, you can help them achieve their goals and at the same time, reduce their burnout effectively.
  • The essence of the solution–based coaching: When dealing with a colleague’s burnout, focus on the solution instead of the problem. Offer your opinions about the future course of action. This should increase their self-awareness and self-discovery. Don’t provide ready-made answers. Instead, facilitate their voyage of self–discovery. Solution-based coaching focuses on an evidence-based approach. It should help the sufferer to make self-discovery about his problems. This will enable them to make meaningful progress toward solving the problems. As a coach, since you are relieved of the burden of providing the solution, you can effectively focus on guiding to enable the participants to achieve their self-determined goals. The responsibility for their success is also placed squarely on their hands.
  • It’s all in the Mindset: Coaches enable burnt-out physicians to develop a growth mindset, find emotional resilience, and have mindfulness in their lives. This enables them to rebuild their careers, understand their strengths, and play to them. Coaches only provide them with tools and confidence and give them the confidence to thrive in their professional lives. Resilience is a quality that is more than getting through. With its help, we can thrive, be at our best and achieve our goals. 

Benefits Of Physician Coaching Include:

  • Cultivating better patient time management skills
  • Ability to handle conflict and stress situations even better
  • Being an effective team leader and manage personal stress better
  • Developing authentic leadership management skills
  • Maintaining in emotionally charged situations
  • With neuroscience and mindfulness skills, move to a growth mindset
  • Develop confidence by overcoming self-doubt and self-limiting thoughts.
  • Identify and move past factors that limit your growth
  • Improve your communication habits which help you to work more effectively with a team.
  • Be more present during family times to ensure better work-life balance
  • Decrease procrastination and improve work efficiency.
  • Leaving the charting and inbox at work.
  • Remaining connected with their purpose as a doctor.
  • Getting greater clarity on their professional and personal goals.
  • Time to re-stimulate yourself for professional and personal work.
  • Reverse patterns of negativity.
  • Increases self-awareness and motivation, and capacity to take effective action.
  • It gives you the courage to have tough conversations with your boss or the hospital management.
  • Helps you to avoid negative activities like overdrinking and overworking.

Life coaching is not a new phenomenon. It has existed in various forms for professionals in business or sports. Coaches help you objectively look at your life, emotional state, actions, and results. A physician coach helps you understand that thoughts lead to emotions, which lead to actions. 

Everyone knows that the medical career is a grueling, demanding, and taxing career which requires singular and intense focus. It is not enough that individual-level efforts are made to change physician burnout. An organizational-level effort is also required to reduce what is becoming an endemic problem. 

The American Medical Association is taking steps in this direction to address the issues of time constraints, technology, and regulations. It also assesses an organization’s health and tries to provide targeted solutions to enhance physical well-being and job satisfaction. 

Peer group support can also help by sharing knowledge, experience, and emotional and physical support between individuals with common experiences. Organizations can also offer Employment support programs and therapy to physicians who suffer from burnout.

Do I have to be a Physician to become a Physician Coach?

No. The physician coach who increases self-awareness and accountability in physicians suffering from burnout does not have to be a physician himself. 

 An AMA study over five months involving physicians who suffered from burnout addressed diverse professional needs such as clinical work, career direction, leadership, and self-care. Emotional exhaustion fell by 19.5% after physician coaching, and burnout rates decreased by 17.1%. The AMA has also introduced several innovative educational modules to reduce physician burnout, specifically health coaching.

The most important takeaway of physician coaching is the acceptance that we are not perfect. The pursuit of perfection to the exclusion of everything else leads to burnout. It is OK not to excel at everything we do and prioritize our work into manageable sections. We also learn the art of saying “No.” We learn that health is a holistic concept. Health is not just physical, it encompasses the biological, psychological, social, and spiritual.  

Who are the victims of physician Burnout?

Every physician is a potential victim of burnout. Specifically, physician burnout affects different groups, like women doctors and physicians of color, differently. In some ways, it would be correct to say that the pressure to succeed is higher. After all, women are the primary caregiver for their children and families. 

The desire to break the glass ceiling, having to perform twice as better compared to the male physicians, adds a layer of stress. Feelings of self-doubt about your capabilities and skills and experiencing depersonalization are the beginning symptoms of burnout. After all, physicians are supposed to feel empathetic toward patients. If you catch yourself snapping at more than one patient, this is a warning symptom of the beginning of burnout.

Physician Burnout Effects Among Physicians of Color:

An MBI study revealed the following:

Physician - Nationality Burnout Percentage
White 44.7%
Asian 41.7%
Black 38.5%
Hispanic/Latino 37.4%

The study revealed that physicians of color were less likely to report physician burnout than white physicians. Colored physicians felt there was a more significant stigma in reporting physician burnout.

Digital Physician Burnout Coaching for Doctors

Many websites offer physician coaching for the payment of nominal fees. Some physician coaches deal with humor and kindness, which greatly helps when you feel overwhelmed. Some of the physician coaches are doctors who have experienced the stresses and strains of medical life and are, therefore, guides to lead physicians through the pitfalls of a stressful medical career. 

Some of the well-known physician-run sites include the following:

They also provide financial advice to enable physicians to invest their surplus funds towards earning a passive income. They provide the services of a financial planner who will help you to manage your income better. This provides more space for adjusting their lifestyles or medical careers. 

Tax accountant services, virtual assistant services, better medical billing and practice management, and alternative careers are some of the other pieces of advice these agencies provide in addition to physician coaching. Some are interactive sessions, and some are virtual coaching sessions.

Key Takeaways

Physician coaching is a surefire way of breaking the vicious spiral of physician burnout. Do not fear stigma and peer pressure; reach out for help from a physician coach. This will enable you to overcome your spiraling problems due to physician burnout. Physician burnout is a universally accepted negative consequence of a stressful medical profession, and the sooner you seek relief from this, the better your holistic health will become.


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