Growing up, I always loved watching superheroes like Superman beat the bad guys. Lex Luthor’s evil plan will be foiled once again, and the world will be saved. However, in the real world, superheroes don’t always wear hats to save lives. Doctors are our superheroes, and we must protect them as they protect us. It is a shame that so many physicians experience burnout and that the pandemic has made the situation worse.
The Journal of American Radiology indicates that past epidemics have increased the risk of a worsening mental health condition for clinicians, which can lead to burnout. According to a 2020 article one more Tea. By Kannampalli, physician burnout during the pandemic was at its lowest from 33.7% pre-pandemic to 46.3%. This means that about half of the physicians were and may have been burned. At the same time, it is disappointing to see that 33.7% is an “all-time low” during the pre-pandemic, as that is already a large percentage of physicians who experience burnout.
Burnout is terrible not only for physicians, but for their patients as well. Janice D. Kairou’s 2021 article in the Medical Journal Plastic and reconstructive surgery reports that physician burnout also has a significant impact on health care delivery. “As burnout increases, work performance is affected to the detriment of patient care, leading to decreased quality of care, patient satisfaction and productivity, and increased medical errors and physician turnover,” notes the article.
Now that physician burnout is at its highest, we must find solutions to help our doctors. Fortunately, there are several solutions that will reduce burnout rates. They can be classified into two levels: personal and organizational. Dr. Christina Maslach of the University of California Berkeley’s Department of Psychology outlines the primary themes found in burnout, such as workload, control, reward, community, fairness, and values.
According to Kairou’s 2021 article, “changes at the individual level (involved), stress management, self-care and gratitude interventions”, while “changes at the organizational level (involved), smaller shifts and policies regarding scheduling requests, cross coverage” change, leave, sick leave, maternity and paternity leave.”
We can help our practitioners by encouraging conversations about mental health in everyday life, to implement solutions based on an individual level. By stigmatizing mental health, others (including physicians) will feel safe and seek help. Sometimes just by being open, empathetic, and mindful of the effects of mental health, you can create a comfortable and accepting environment.
The next time we have a long hospital wait, we can try to be patient in understanding the workload and stress of physicians and providers. Many physicians are under the impression that they should not rest or take vacations too often because it is their duty to help their patients. To address this, we as a society must also strive to normalize the notion that it is okay to take breaks. For example, we may have more doctors going on vacation in travel commercials. Or, if you’re in the medical field, talking with coworkers about going on vacation will help wreak havoc. In the end, just showing gratitude and saying “thank you” to your doctor can go a long way.
We can directly advocate for reform of hospital policies to manage physician workloads and stress, to implement solutions based at the organizational level. For example, we may join a movement, aid in a protest, and/or campaign for policy change through social media. The goal is to gain traction and attention to pressure policymakers, politicians or hospital administrators to make implicit changes within the law. These policy changes should be nationwide. For more information on how to push for reform hospital policies, see joint Commission or Physician Foundation,
Please help our heroes.
— by Sara Thai
Sarah Thai, a resident of Edmonds, is a second year student at the University of Washington. She wrote this letter as part of a project for her public health class.