The Road to Recovery Once Burnout Occurs
Burnout can manifest in different ways depending on the severity. Individuals experiencing mild degrees of burnout may appear to function normally, with their limitations only surfacing when high-stress situations occur. On the other hand, an individual experiencing severe burnout may struggle to perform daily tasks and get frustrated easily when faced with challenges. In extreme circumstances, individuals experiencing burnout may reach a breaking point and exhibit outbursts, thus jeopardizing their career and relationships.
The first step to recovering from burnout is recognizing and acknowledging that it has occurred. Indicators of burnout include emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and a sense of hopelessness. Dr. Christina Maslach and colleagues have devised a screening tool that can be used to assist in identifying burnout. The Maslach burnout inventory, published in three forms, is the most widely used tool for measuring burnout and has been validated by over 25 years of research.
The Maslach inventory delineates three main components for burnout:
- Emotional Exhaustion – feeling overextended or depleted
- Depersonalization, Cynicism – feeling detached or insensitive
- Inefficacy – feeling unaccomplished or incompetent
Although burnout is not a recognized disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), it is associated with an International Statistical Classification of Diseases, 10th revision (ICD-10) code (Z73.0). Once burnout has been identified, focus should be placed on ensuring the recovery of the burned-out physician.
Effectively tackling physician burnout requires a multi-pronged approach that includes:
- Changes in the personal views/habits/lifestyle of physicians experiencing burnout
- Support from medical institutions/practices, providing physicians with the resources and time needed to recover from burnout
- A shift in the cultural norms of the medical community, such that more emphasis is placed on physician well-being and self-care
Physicians suffering from burnout should spend time identifying the factors that led to their exhaustion, then take steps to remove or reduce the risk factors that led to their burnout. External factors contributing to burnout are often easier to identify and manage than internal contributors.
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