Nowadays there’s a lot of discussion about burnout with plenty of self-help books that guide us in overcoming it. Some reports say that burnout starts in medical school, when those eager, humanitarian students start seeing the ills of our medical system. Many doctors feel that the system is set up for billing purposes, often not taking our desires into consideration. Not enough of us are writing on what we can tangibly do to take back medicine into our hands or how to make our work environment less culturally stressful. Instead, we have those self-help books that help us with mindfulness, learning how to be more patient, and bringing back joy into our darkened, wearisome souls. Even with all those well-intentioned books, it’s difficult keeping our inner Zen while surrounded by this culture of burnout.
Burnout is known to decrease productivity and worsen patient care. Those who feel burned-out may feel isolated and hopeless. Trying to stay peaceful while those we work with are also suffering makes it much more difficult. Not only being overworked, but having less meaningful human connections, and having more abrasive human interactions while working all contribute to our mental health. Long hours at work are often complicated by rude remarks, decreasing our patience and lowering our compassion for the next person we come in contact with. It seems that doctors are frustrated with nurses, nurses are frustrated with doctors, and other healthcare providers frustrated with all the above. Meanwhile, most are frustrated with themselves and often take those emotions home. All of this leads to little compassion among us, in a field that demands this same aspect of human connection. We often react in anger and criticism of others, furthering our own emotional exhaustion and creating a culture of many burned-out people attempting to work together.
Some simple propositions for improving this stringent culture is being kinder not to just oneself, but each other. We do not need to feel like we are the most self-sacrificing member on the team who is doing the most for the patient. We can learn to give gratitude, and give back words of positive reinforcement to those that we work with. When others appreciate or applaud our work, it makes those long hours a bit more rewarding and makes working with others more rewarding. Forgiving others when mistakes happen also create a space for honesty and self-improvement. This culture of kindness would allow for less unnecessary stress that is so intertwined in medicine today. Creating a more peaceful workplace would allow for us to thrive and work on our inner peace. This is a simplistic approach to a very large, intricate problem but it can be the start of a cultural change.
Although there are real systematic problems we need to fix and demand in our healthcare system, we can practice being kinder to each other in the meantime to make this period of change a little more bearable. This is not only important to each of us in the healthcare field to increase emotional well-being but to improve patient care and extend the same compassion that is given to us back to our patients.
Isis Lopez is a second year resident at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial internal medicine residency program.