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News & Press: WPA News

Don't Bet Against Your Burning Out!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019  
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H. Steven Moffic, M.D.

Are you burning out to some degree professionally? It’s a 50/50 chance that you are.

Worsening this data is the psychological process that commonly results in conscious or unconscious denial that one is burning out, as it can be too much of a threat to our professional ego-ideal. Actually, our profession seems to have been in some denial about this challenge, as we are well behind other specialties in addressing it.

Thankfully, there is some good news. After an initial APA Workgroup on Physician Wellness and Burnout, on which I served, that has recently morphed into an ongoing committee. There is the first psychiatric book on the challenge. The website has a variety of information, videos, and self-assessment tools.

We now know that the systems we work in are much more of a causative factor than any personal vulnerability. Therefore, although sleep, nutrition, exercise and sexual wellness can contribute to health for anyone, they will almost always be inadequate for preventing burnout. We need systems that reestablish more engagement of those who work in them, that reduces wasteful non-clinical activities, and that allows us to more often connect to our passion for healing. In the meanwhile, the most promising interventions are meditation, small Balint-like groups of collegial discussion, edge leaders, human system engineers, and (hint, hint) large continuing education conferences on the subject.

The risk is that each of us will just try to find our own safety and security in obtaining the best clinical knowledge to help each patient. But burnout inevitably worsens our own mental health and quality of care. Never have we had a stronger need to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers and seekers of collective well-being.

Editor's Note: Doctor Moffic is a co-editor of Combating Physician Burnout: A Guide for Psychiatrists, an APA Publishing book that focuses on the field of psychiatry and aims to educate psychiatrists about three key concepts: stress, burnout, and physician impairment.