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How to Cope With Physician Burnout

Physicians face a lot more stress at work than most people do. Many of these doctors work long hours, skip out on sleep and face decisions that mean the difference between life and death for their patients. It’s easy to get run down on the job, especially with few breaks or vacations. There are healthy and meaningful solutions to physician burnout, but unfortunately many doctors cope in non-productive ways and are more susceptible to substance abuse than the general population.
Physician Burnout and Stress

Physicians and Substance Abuse

Doctors with drug habits and drinking problems are not unusual. It may be a surprise to hear, but physicians are vulnerable to substance abuse because of the stress and long hours in their line of work. To cope with the burden of life-and-death choices, the grief of losing patients and the difficulty of making the wrong choice for a patient, not to mention the time demands of working as a doctor, many turn to drugs or alcohol for relief. Drinking is a common way for a physician to unwind. Abusing prescription drugs is also common because of the ease of access.

Better Solutions to Physician Burnout

Drinking or using drugs can seem like an easy way out of feeling burned out from the physical and emotional demands of life as a doctor. Substance abuse is destructive, though, and only makes the situation worse. Physicians struggling with burnout have other options. They can take a sabbatical, or an extended break, from work. They can switch to positions that are less demanding. For instance, working in an office with regular hours is much less stressful than working 12-plus-hour shifts in an emergency room.

When taking time away from the job or switching to another field aren’t possible, there are other options for coping with burnout. Stressed out doctors should pay attention to their physical and mental health. They need to eat well, get enough sleep when off the job, get plenty of exercise and see a therapist or counselor if necessary.

Support for Addicted Physicians

When physicians do turn to drugs and alcohol, they may end up with an addiction. It is important to offer doctors appropriate treatment and the chance to be able to go back to work. A major reason that physicians never seek help for addiction is that they are afraid of losing the ability to work in medicine and of the professional ridicule they may experience.

Drug and alcohol rehab for medical doctors, also known as a physician health program, is just such a place. These specialized rehab facilities are designed to work with doctors, to help them get over addiction, to teach them better coping mechanisms and to get them back to work doing what they love. Most states offer a physician health program, so for doctor burnout and those who have succumbed to addiction, there is hope.

Posted on December 18th, 2016

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