Burnout and I

6 ways to reduce burnout in residency

Based on the stream of articles and essays, many of us experience burnout at some point. In my personal experience, burnout gradually deranged my emotions and wreaked havoc on my mental clarity throughout residency.

Over the first three years of residency, my empathy waned. Residency became what I told myself it could never be: brutal work instead of a calling. 

By the second year of residency, I could not settle down between consults; I was constantly on edge and unproductive between pages. I’ve never had a quick temper, but by third year, receiving an “unnecessary” page made me white hot with anger. When on call, my hands would shake on the steering wheel as I drove to the hospital, mentally cursing at the “idiot who didn’t know how to handle things on their own.” I found it difficult to focus and remember the next task on my checklist.

To fight burnout, you must try to be a whole person. Residency is incredibly important but it cannot consume your entire life and mind without consuming you as well.

Here are six ways I fight burnout:

  1. Do at least one thing every week that has nothing to do with residency/school. This is more difficult at certain times than others, but consider a standing date with friends or significant other. I go to my favorite dive bar on most Monday nights to eat wings and talk with a girlfriend.
  2. Read and/or write. I always loved reading books for fun. Fiction, nonfiction, medical, comic books – anything that brings you joy. Joining Twitter and starting this blog have made me start writing again, which is incredibly therapeutic!
  3. Exercise. Whether you use a Fitbit to monitor your steps toward a goal or lift weights or run marathons or do 15 minutes of yoga in the morning, moving your body and getting your heart rate up (or slowing your breathing) clears your mind and makes you feel good.
  4. Address your emotional health directly. Acknowledge stress, anxiety, and anger and try to assess the reasons for them. If they don’t make sense or are out of proportion, pay attention.
  5. Keep the faith. If you are a spiritual or religious person, stay active in your beliefs, practices, and community.
  6. See a professional! After extensive conversation with friends, I went to a counselor to work on stress-management and anxiety. During my third year of residency, when burnout had already set it, I lost a family member unexpectedly. The loss worsened my emotions and focus, so I ultimately saw my primary care provider for medical management of an adjustment disorder.

Residency is full of challenging days and months and years, but I am convinced they are worth it.

I am so much better this year than two years ago. I don’t feel jumpy for 24 straight hours while on call. I no longer compose livid speeches in my head on the way to the hospital. I’m working on this “whole person” concept one baby step at a time.

Keep up the strong work,
Single With Scalpel

About the Author

Single With Scalpel is a Pediatric Otolaryngology fellow who tweets about life, humor, and medical education. She blogs here when 140 characters simply aren't enough.

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