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Strategies for Preventing and Managing Burnout in Medical School

Whether you are a medical student, resident, or attending physician, you are bound to face burnout at some point in your career. Face it, regardless of your specialty, the practice of medicine is incredibly demanding, stressful, and time consuming. With countless hours spent in the hospital and away from your family, the constant pressure of high-stakes clinical care, not to mention an endless supply of administrative tasks — it is no surprise that physicians experience burnout at some points throughout their training and career. At some point along the way, many of us become so engrossed in caring for our patients that we forget to take care of ourselves.

Being burnt out does not make you a bad doctor and it doesn’t mean that you should just toughen up. However, there are strategies you can employ to both prevent burnout and recharge yourself once it has begun. Let me discuss some of the ones that I have utilized over the years.

Take a Day Off

How many times have you used one of your precious few days off to study, work on patient notes, or deal with research? It might often seem foreign in medicine but there is such a thing as using a day off to relax. Make sure that you are not treating your day off like another day at work.  Whether it’s sleeping in, going for a hike, catching a movie, or just catching up with friends, having a day filled with activities that you enjoy is a surefire way to get you back on track.

Have Non-Medical Friends

What happens when you go out with your friends from medical school or residency?  In my experience, you just end up talking about medical school or residency. Echoing my above point, these are the types of things that make it feel like you are never escaping school or work and can just add to your stress levels if you are the type of person that is constantly comparing yourself to your peers. Having friends outside of medicine can give you a chance to escape the medical bubble and will allow you to drop that weight off your shoulders. For me, one of the best decisions I made was joining a regular pickup basketball league at our gym. Game nights allowed me the chance to stay in shape and to spend time with people that didn’t care how I performed on my last anatomy test or how many cases I had scrubbed in on that week.

Stay in Shape

In the past, I’ve been the most burnt out during times where I felt too busy to exercise and became frustrated with deteriorating conditioning or weight gain. Once I made it a point to stay in shape regardless of my schedule, I found myself having more energy and having more confidence in the way I looked.  Find some form of physical activity that you enjoy and push yourself to make it a part of your week at least 3-4 times.

Have Something to Look Forward to

During my intern year, I made it a point to utilize each of my vacations for an exciting trip. Having something to look forward to made the long nights in the ICU a little easier and got me to push through those last few weeks before a vacation. This is a practice that I maintain to date. Whether it is India, Hawaii, Greece, or just going back home to see my parents – having that trip to look forward to keeps me pushing forward.

Find a Source for Support

Sometimes you can do everything I listed above and still find yourself burnt out and fed up with your work life. Having that one person you can talk to can really make a difference here. One mistake I constantly see people make is trying to keep these feelings bottled up inside and allowing them to slowly grow. Having someone to talk to is an important way to vent, seek advice, and ask for help if needed. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to a friend or family member, consider seeking out a psychiatrist or professional counselor. Even taking the time to write your feelings in a diary can make a big difference.

 

Hopefully these suggestions can help you as much as they have helped me. Most importantly, realize that you are not alone and that there is nothing to be ashamed of for feeling burnt out. Sometimes, in order to help others, you have to focus on helping yourself.