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Mentors, Coaches, Sponsors and Colleagues

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Physician burnout is pervasive and appears to be worsening. In fact, in some specialties, residents are burned out, even before they have spent their first day in practice. They are not alone because burnout happens in many industries other than medicine.

Burnout has a range of symptoms. There is no agreement as to which of those are part of burnout and which are not. But all definitions have in common that the symptoms are regarded as being the consequence of stress, either in or outside the job (for example, one possible source of stress outside the job is caring for a family member).

Three main categories of symptoms are considered signs of burnout:

  1. Emotional exhaustion: People affected feel drained and exhausted, overloaded, tired and low energy. Physical symptoms include pain or digestive problems.
  2. Alienation from (job-related) activities: People affected find their jobs increasingly negative and frustrating. They may develop a cynical attitude towards their work environment and their colleagues. They may also increasingly distance themselves emotionally from their work.
  3. Reduced performance: Burnout affects everyday tasks at work, at home, or when caring for family members. People with burnout regard their activities very negatively, find it hard to concentrate, are listless and experience a lack of creativity.

Burnout can also be described as "the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one's devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results." It is a stress-related state, and there are multiple causes.

Burnout interventions and prevention programs, both at the personal and organizational level, are often successful. However, both personal and organizational interventions are better than either alone, and the results tend to diminish over time.

Mentors, coaches, sponsors and colleagues might help, but you need to understand the roles each plays and when and how to engage them. Here is what to do when your boss refuses to be your sponsor:

Mentors are accountability partners who help you stay on track to meet your goals. They are hard to find and the lack of a mentor is an oft-quoted reason for entrepreneurial failure. Many entrepreneurs have a hard time finding the right mentor for various reasons. Here are some tips on being a good mentor. It starts with building a genuine relationship.

Coaches facilitate learning, and focus on producing results. Coaches are trained in strategies for achieving results specific to their domain of coaching. Although they may not have experience generating the results you are looking for in themselves, they should have experience generating these results in other people or organizations.

Sponsors are different from mentors. Their job is to run cover for you in your organization and help you find the scarce resources intrapreneurs need to succeed. They make an investment in your ideas and, like every investor, expect a return within a defined time.

Colleagues are people you work with that you admire and can emulate. They are not friends, but rather honest sounding boards. They set an example by their actions. There are many reasons why colleagues make good mentors or confidantes.

Many of you who are reading this don't have a mentor. But, here are some ways to change that.

And here are some best practices for mentors and mentees.

Whether you are an employed physician, a community practitioner, a budding CEO of a biomedical or health startup or an intrapreneur, you may need an antidote to stress. Take the time to cultivate the right relationship with the right person in the right role and thank your lucky stars you found them.

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