Doctors’ jobs, in the hospital or clinic, have been getting more demanding and less rewarding in the last several years. Well-meaning changes including the rise of electronic medical records and attempts to improve how we do our jobs through quality measures have made us sad and tired and supply none of the joy that we can get from a satisfied patient or a diagnostic puzzle cleverly solved. We may find ourselves aging, with multiplying frown lines and receding hairlines, sitting at our computers finishing our documentation, while our families have vacations and parties without us. Although we make enough money, strangely, it doesn’t buy happiness.
When we are tired and sad; we lack the creativity to make job changes. Fear eclipses courage.
Sometimes we do stupid things involving alcohol or indiscretions, or buying something expensive on credit… family members give us “that look.”
We feel inadequate.
We get grumpy and stop doing that extra little bit to connect with the patient or unravel the mysterious illness. The precious little job satisfactions of working well with our team or taking our patients’ point of view become rarer.
We are burning out. There’s that telltale smell of smoke as our soul shrivels and our dreams fry.
What do we need? Probably a vacation, maybe even a stint working in global medicine, to change our perspective. Counseling and confiding in friends can help. If we keep doing the same job, perhaps we need a scribe to take care of the paperwork. Also learning a new skill could make us wake up and love medicine again. Enter point-of-care ultrasound.
I don’t want to trivialize the pain of burnout. It can be devastating, making us depressed, ending marriages, wrecking careers and friendship, collapsing us inward, and sometimes leading to suicide. Somehow we need to jump off of that horrific course and better sooner than later. I got close to burning out early in my career and ever since that time I’ve done everything I can to stay in love with my job. For me, learning to do point-of-care ultrasound enriched my practice and, along with a major career adjustment, kept me from getting all charred and crispy.
Doing point-of-care ultrasound, for a physician who is already skilled in practice but has no ultrasound experience, can be life-altering. As I matured in my practice, some of my physical exam skills improved but others atrophied for lack of use and because I knew that I couldn’t trust them. A fluid wave doesn’t predict ascites. Dullness in the base of the lung doesn’t lead me to suspect a pleural effusion. Splenomegaly, if not massive, is so hard to detect in my super-adequately nourished patients. Learning basic point-of-care ultrasound brought me back to paying good attention to my patients’ bodies. And they were fascinated and appreciated the extra care. I also was able to more quickly solve their medical mysteries and shorten previously prolonged evaluations. Seeing patients got more fun.
Burnout is an awful feeling and is preventable. It happens when we get ourselves into situations that are not sustainable and don’t feed our souls. We physicians have vast options and we need to recognize when we are trying to do a job that is wrong for us. And before we quit the profession entirely, we need to try learning something that makes it fun again. Point-of-care ultrasound, for instance.
How do you avoid burnout? Do you have your own experience to share? Comment below, or, AIUM members, continue the conversation on Connect, the AIUM’s online community.
Janice Boughton MD, FACP, RDMS, is an internist Moscow, Idaho. She practices hospital medicine and rural primary care as well as teaching point of care ultrasound techniques in the US and Africa. She also writes about healthcare economics in her blog (www.whyisamericanhealthcaresoexpensive.blogspot.com.)
Dr. Boughton graduated from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1986 and completed residency training at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and the University of Washington. She started doing bedside ultrasound in 2011.