Well-being expert offers tips to avoid mental, emotional exhaustion
Published on Friday, February 1, 2019
By: Ruth Cummins
Note: This story appears in the February 2019 edition of CONSULT, the monthly e-newsletter published by the UMMC Division of Public Affairs that focuses on cutting-edge clinical advances, innovative educational programs and groundbreaking research occurring at UMMC. To receive CONSULT in your email, visit www.umc.edu/CONSULT to sign up.
When frontline caregivers cope with the pressure of long hours, very sick patients and reams of required paperwork, they may find themselves burning out on the job as their stress and frustration build.
It’s not just a concern when it comes to patient care and worker productivity. Experts say provider burnout has become a significant national issue among health systems large and small.
“Burnout is a huge problem,” said Dr. Dan Williams, an associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. “More than half of physicians and providers have some of the symptoms: exhaustion, being cynical about their jobs, being disconnected from the purpose of their work, losing interest in patient care, increased malpractice risk and decreased patient satisfaction.”
Research shows provider burnout is linked to the risk of medical errors and health care-associated infections, according to The Nation’s Health, a publication of the American Public Health Association. Add to that the complication of a nationwide shortage of physicians, including in Mississippi, and extremely high rates of depression and suicide among both male and female physicians.
“The scary thing is, physicians commit suicide at a much higher rate than the rest of the population, and that translates to medical students, too,” Williams said. “It’s very taxing.”
Williams is associate director of UMMC’s Office of Well-being. The office strives to create well-being among employees and students by promoting awareness and education, providing motivation for positive behavior changes and influencing campus practices and policy to support a healthy environment.
Some of the factors driving provider burnout are difficult to change and seem to come with the territory: increasing documentation and clerical demands, reimbursement-driven mandates and policy requirements that are part of a changing health care landscape. It can cause caregivers to leave the field or to lose their passion and enjoyment for it.
There are things providers can do to build resilience so they can avoid, or at least cope with, burnout. And it’s not all at the feet of providers: Health systems must do their part to support employees.
“There are definitely things that providers can do, but if the system is bad, it will never be enough,” Williams said. “You can be the most resilient person in the world, but you’re still going to feel burned out after a while.”
UMMC takes steps to help employees avoid burnout, including teaching providers how to make the use of Epic, the Medical Center’s electronic health record, less time-consuming. UMMC’s Division of Information Systems “offers tailored help with Epic. We will come to your clinic and teach shortcuts, and rearrange Epic to be more user-friendly,” he said.
The hospital also is developing what’s called a “second victim” program for caregivers whose patients are very sick or who succumb to their illness or injuries following medical procedures.
“If something goes poorly with a procedure, the patient is the first victim, but the second victims are providers associated with the event,” Williams said. “We are building programs to provide support and help caregivers through that process.
“It’s easy to feel like you’re on your own in a big system like this. We want to be there for our providers in a systemic way.”
Williams offers advice for those experiencing burnout:
• Try to balance work and the rest of your life.
“It’s essential that providers have hobbies or outside interests, and they need to take time off from work,” he said. “It’s important that we take vacation and get some distance from work so we can refresh our batteries.”
• Have a network of people on whom you can lean.
“ A lot of resilience is having support inside and outside of work,” he said. “Have a group of people around you that you can talk to and vent to. Research shows these people do better on the job.”
• Take care of yourself physically.
“Exercise. It’s the same thing we encourage our patients to do.” Williams said to eat a balanced, healthy diet and try to achieve a routine schedule of restful sleep.
• Don’t be afraid to seek professional help if burnout is impairing your work.
“That’s a sign that it’s time to do more than spending time with family and loved ones,” he said. “There’s stigma in reaching out to a psychiatric provider, but we shouldn’t think twice about getting help when we are experiencing problems.”
The Office of Well-being stands ready to help providers coping with burnout, Williams said. This month, the office will use a survey to start measuring burnout for all faculty, staff and students.
“This will allow everyone who takes the survey to measure their level of burnout to others in similar positions – for example, physicians to physicians, students to students,” he said. “It can serve as a metric for how you are doing and help you consider whether it’s time to take steps to actively address symptoms of burnout.
“Until we make systemic changes, burnout will never be resolved. We should not blame the provider. It’s a symptom of a larger problem.”