Back Physician Burnout during COVID-19

Physician Burnout during COVID-19

By Scott Files, contributor

Physicians and other healthcare providers often put patients’ needs ahead of their own and are the first to sacrifice when asked to work what many would deem impossible shifts. It is just what they do.

But there are times when the stressors of little sleep, less self-care and even the lack of down time can produce physician burnout. At these times, it is essential that physicians recognize the symptoms of what they’re feeling and remember the ancient proverb “physician, heal thyself”.

Doing so not only helps with your own mental health, it sets the stage for how you react to patient needs.

You're Not in This Alone

Remember, you are human. We are in unprecedented times in the lives of most people, so everyday stressors are amplified in ways that may seem a little overwhelming. Even in normal times, physician burnout is an understandable reaction to adversity. 

In 2017, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) projected a deficit of up to 104,900 physicians in the U.S. by 2030, which may lead to physicians working at increased levels. 

According to Medscape’s 2019 survey1, 44% of physicians feel some level of burnout, with male providers at 50% and females at 39%. In many cases, they cite similar factors, including too much time on the job, too many bureaucratic tasks, lack of autonomy and even feeling disrespected by patients. 

Simply understanding that you’re not alone in this is a good way to frame the way you’re feeling. Respondents to the Medscape survey noted that they deal with physician burnout by exercising (48%) and talking with friends and family about the rigors of their positions (43%). 

If you’re not already using these outlets to help alleviate some of your feelings, think about reaching out to fellow providers, taking a walk, or implementing wellness tactics such as stretching, yoga or meditation into you daily routine. 

Facilities are Listening

It’s also necessary to understand that today’s institutions recognize that clinicians are hitting the wall. Before COVID-19 was even part of our daily lexicon, many were trying to help by implementing new ways of working, including2:

  • Making sure that metrics for provider success include satisfaction and well-being
  • Implementing a Team-Based approach to medicine where clinicians share findings and work together to implement patient goals and strategies
  • Creating flexible schedules
  • Enhancing communications between hospital administrators and providers 

    Assessing Your Own Physician Burnout

    For providers who may be experiencing physician burnout, consider the following 3 pillars to conduct a self-assessment3. As a healthcare provider, you probably already carry a level of ambient stress as the rigors of the healthcare system can be difficult even under normal times. 

    • 1)Physical Exhaustion: No one knows better than you that exhaustion can lead to poor performance in any type of job. If you’re experiencing headaches, dizziness, aching muscles or slowed reflexes, it may be time to take a bit of your own medicine. 

      Treat yourself as you’d treat your patients, taking the advice you’d give them and implementing it in your own life. Get away, take a nap or a hot bath, put down digital devices and realize that you are not superhuman. 
    • 2)Lack of Efficacy: If you’re feeling that your many efforts as a provider aren’t helping (which could be exacerbated during this current crisis), take some time to put things in perspective. Don’t question the quality of your work or dedication. 

      Remember, you are there on the frontlines and working with the tools and situations you have on hand. Take one-day at a time and try not to dwell on the little things. Take solace in the fact that others appreciate your efforts more than you know. Know you are sincerely appreciated by patients, their families, administrators and the team at Locum Leaders.
    • 3)Depersonalization: Depersonalization is defined in Psychology Today4 as an altered state of self-awareness and identity that results in a feeling of dissociation, or separation, from oneself, one’s surroundings, or both. If you’re feeling this way in your day to day interactions with patients, you may be experiencing one of the primary symptoms of physician burnout.

    Resources That Can Help 

    To bring some level of relief your way, Locum Leaders put together a short list of resources you can use to lessen some of the burdens you may be feeling:

    Meditate…to Alleviate Stress

    • Headspace : The time has never been better for U.S. based healthcare professionals to gain access to a free subscription. If you work in a public setting and are part of the healthcare community, you can gain FREE access to over 1,200 hours of meditations through the end of calendar year 2020. 


    • There’s no better time to use Skype or Facetime to connect with friends or family members. Talk about the good times, happy memories, and make sure to laugh. Disconnect from your shift and go to your memory bank of the simple things that bring you joy. Replay a camping trip you took to Sedona or an impromptu board game where you laughed out loud and know that we will all get through this together.

     Got 7 Minutes?

    • The 7-Minute Workout : Okay, we can all find 7 minutes even in the most hectic of times. As healthcare providers, putting yourself first may seem foreign, but it’s necessary. To be there for your patients, you must first start with yourself; it’s not selfish, it’s just a good way to practice wellness. 

    We’re here for you

    Thank you for the time you spend helping patients. We hope you know it doesn’t go unnoticed. The recruiters at Locum Leaders are here for you. 

    Thanks again for all you do.

    1 MedScape’s 2019 Lifestyle and Physician Burnout Report
    National Academy of Medicine. Implementing a Team-Based Approach to Healthcare 
    The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
    Psychology Today: Depersonalization/Derealization