I like Art Caplan a lot. He’s a respected medical ethicist who does a pretty good job of describing why physician burnout is, or should be considered, a public health crisis. The video and transcript are behind a Medscape paywall, but here’s the gist:
More than half of all doctors in this country are saying, “I really feel that some aspect of my work as a doctor is making me feel burned out.”
This is really trouble. It’s trouble because a doctor who feels this way can commit more errors. They suffer from compassion fatigue, or just not being able to empathize with others because they have their own emotional issues. They may retire early, thereby reducing the workforce. They may have problems managing their own lives; 400 doctors committed suicide last year, which is double the rate of the population average. There’s trouble for patients in having a workforce that’s burned out. There’s trouble for doctors in terms of their own health and well-being. We don’t talk about it much. We like to think that doctors can handle everything, but it’s clearly not true. It’s a problem and there ought to be some solutions.
Sing it, brother! Couldn’t agree more.
Unfortunately, he offers some “solutions” that frankly cracked me up:
One type of fix is to make sure that hospitals and other healthcare environments try to create better conditions for a happy workforce and for happier doctors. This might include yoga, mindfulness training, having more therapists to talk to, encouraging people to come forward when they feel this way, peer groups, and better mentoring.
Are you kidding me? Physician suicide is out of control and you’re suggesting yoga? Seriously, Art??
Want to fix physician burnout? It’s a ridiculously simple process with only two components:
- LET US DO OUR DAMN JOBS.
- PAY US APPROPRIATELY.
That’s it. As professionals, internal motivations far outstrip external ones. We became physicians to help people, not to enter data into computers or check off boxes for billing clerks. Let us get back to doing that without administrators and bureaucrats breathing down our necks, compensate us fairly and transparently, and watch burnout disappear.
I guarantee it.