Burnt-out cases – how doctors suffer too

Our new EuroTimes blogger Aidan Hanratty explains why even the best physicians can suffer from exhaustion and a lack of motivation

Aidan Hanratty

Posted: Friday, July 28, 2017

Are you suffering from burnout? It can happen to the best and brightest of us. Tiredness, frustration, a lack of concentration, poor performance at work – these are just some of the signs that you may be in a rut. David Ballard PsyD of the American Psychological Association describes job burnout as “an extended period of time where someone experiences exhaustion and a lack of interest in things, resulting in a decline in their job performance”.

Graham Greene’s A Burnt-Out Case predates the first use of the term in psychology, telling the story of a dissatisfied architect who travels to a leper colony in the Congo to find purpose. “Leprosy cases whose disease has been arrested and cured only after the loss of fingers or toes are known as burnt-out cases,” wrote Greene in his journal In Search of a Character. He used this in parallel with the mentally exhausted and disinterested architect, who is fortunate enough to be in a position to drop everything and get away in the hopes of returning afresh.

That’s not so easy for doctors, whose patients don’t stop needing help. Writing in the Huffington Post, Melinda Hakim examines some of the reasons doctors in particular are facing burnout. Key factors include an inordinate amount of time spent on paperwork (as opposed to treating patients); rising overheads; debt following long years of training; an imbalance between hours worked and money received.

Studies have shown that ophthalmologists are among the most satisfied with their chosen field, but they may also feel forced to hide problems with mental health. Every specialty faces issues with waiting lists, and ophthalmology is no different – this can have a draining effect, leaving physicians with a feeling of helplessness.

Among other things, the Mayo Clinic recommends that anyone suffering from burnout manage their stressors, and adjust their attitude. These are easier said than done, especially if those stressors come from management or general dissatisfaction with the state of the health service.

There are no simple answers to the dilemma of burnout, and Hakim does not attempt to provide any. Instead she points out how important it is that the field of medicine can continue to attract the brightest minds. “We must all reach out to doctors and do everything in our power to demonstrate that we value our country’s physicians before it’s too late.”

The architect of Greene’s novel meets an unfortunate end; hopefully the same will not be said of the medical profession.

  • Aidan Hanratty is Content Editor for EuroTimes

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