Physicians need to develop strategies to ensure work–life balance and prevent burnout, which can affect the health of their patients and themselves, argues an editorial in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).
“Burnout is neither benign nor temporary: it can lead to anxiety, depression, substance abuse, addiction, and in rare cases, suicide,” writes Dr. Ken Flegel, senior associate editor, CMAJ, with coauthor Dr. Michael Fralick, University of Toronto. “More than half of Canadian physicians feel their family and personal lives have suffered because of the demands of their profession.”
Businesses are increasingly recognizing the negative effects of employees being reachable 24/7 thanks to technology. Many are taking steps to protect employees, such as shutting down access to email when the workday ends, banning company email altogether or forcing junior bankers to take weekends off.
Physician burnout can affect patient care because mental alertness and clear thinking can be compromised by fatigue or exhaustion, common symptoms of burnout.
“Because we know the causes of burnout, we should focus on prevention,” write the authors. They suggest several common-sense approaches to avoiding burnout: regular exercise, healthy eating, meditation, regular vacations from work and email, the setting of limits to what doctors take on as well as the recognition of the symptoms of burnout.
“Perhaps it’s time to learn a lesson from the business world. Physicians need to develop tangible strategies that encourage work–life balance and prevent burnout. If we don’t, we will suffer. So will our patients,” they conclude.
Michael Fralick MD, Ken Flegel MDCM MSc. Physician burnout: Who will protect us from ourselves? CMAJ 2014. DOI:10.1503/cmaj.140588
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