How to win the war against burnout

October 10, 2006

Do you often fight feelings of tiredness, ineffectiveness, and isolation from the people and activities that are important to you? If so, you may be burned out, and you have a lot of company among your peers.

October 10-Atlanta-Do you often fight feelings of tiredness, ineffectiveness, and isolation from the people and activities that are important to you? If so, you may be burned out, and you have a lot of company among your peers.

Burnout, says Janet Serwint, MD, FAAP, of the Johns Hopkins University, frequently occurs in people who have characteristics such as a desire for perfection, a sense of altruism, and a deep sense of responsibility–the very characteristics of those who aspire to practice medicine.

“Many of the seeds of burnout are sown during medical school and residency,” Serwint explained during a seminar at the American Academy of Pediatrics 2006 National Conference and Exhibition. “You’re under constant pressure, and you live in a state of postponement, in which you tell yourself that things will get better when you get out of medical school. Trouble is, postponement easily carries over into practice, when you’re overburdened with the responsibilities of running a business and taking care of a tremendous number of children.”

Burnout can quickly result in career dissatisfaction, introduce unhappiness and stress into your closest relationships, and even affect your mental health: Burnout has been associated with substance abuse and even suicide.

If you find yourself experiencing symptoms of burnout, Serwint suggests that you take time to perform a quick assessment. Ask yourself:

  • What area or specific situation of my life would I like to achieve more balance in?

  • What personal or organizational changes are needed for me to achieve balance?

  • Who or what do I need to effect change and maintain balance?

Serwint herself has used a “Balance Buddy” for support, a colleague who calls periodically and keeps her honest in working toward life balance goals.

“A lot of us are in pediatrics specifically because we want to be of service to children,” she said. “But while that is a lofty goal, we have to take care that it doesn’t eclipse the other priorities that we have in life in importance.”