Healthcare workers risk ‘burnout’, in wake of coronavirus pandemic

Once someone makes a decision to become a doctor; the implications are life long. They have not made a mere career choice in reality they have chosen a life style. Being a healer and a care-giver is a draining job; both emotionally and physically. With the passage of time it takes toll on physician’s own health and often warrants a break. But, sometimes even frequent breaks fail to recharge the doctors and this is the point of ‘physician burnout’.

By Dr Madiha Atta

Burnout: The Big Picture

‘Burnout’ has been established as a diagnosis by the WHO and is recognised predominantly in care-givers such as physicians, nurses, teachers and military personnel. In healthcare, burnout presents as a triad of symptoms including exhaustion; loss of connection or empathy and discontent.

The fine line between tiredness and ‘Burnout’

Burnout is inherent to the field of medicine due to its intense nature of work. The extremely long working hours, emotional distress of dealing with the sick and accountability to patient’s relatives and administration all contribute towards pushing the doctors over the edge.
The added burden of paper work, new electronic systems, insurance plans and under staffing worsens the situation further.
Doctors suffering from burnout are more likely to err in their decisions and harm the patients inadvertently. They can affect the working environment negatively and cause distress to their employees and employers. In the worst case scenario the society can lose highly qualified and well trained doctors to either suicide or a change of profession.

Identifying & Managing

We live in a society where psychiatric illness and psychological issues are frowned upon. A doctor is mocked for falling ill because well how dare a doctor show humanly weaknesses!
Expecting medical burnout to be recognised and acknowledged here is a far-fetched dream; but need of the hour. Because, it is not a personal problem, it impacts the entire healthcare system.
The healthcare community needs to work together to prevent, recognise and treat burnout. Administrations should strive to make the workings hours more humane with adequate staffing and appropriate wages. Peers should make conscious efforts to recognise the signs of burnout amongst themselves and be supportive of each other.

Physician burnout: More than what eyes can see

Lastly, the stigma associated with burnout as with all psychological issues should be abolished so that doctors can freely admit the issue and address it timely. This will be particularly important following the post-COVID 19 era, when a pandemic of burned-out doctors can be expected.

March 24, 2020

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