Physicians Can Find Fulfillment instead of Burnout

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Tucson, Ariz. About half of American physicians are experiencing burnout, writes Michael J. A. Robb, M.D., of Phoenix, Arizona, the immediate past president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), in the winter issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons. Symptoms include overwhelming exhaustion, cynicism and detachment from the job, and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.

A physician experiencing burnout may say: “I feel I look after certain patients impersonally, as if they are objects. I really don’t care about what happens to some of my patients. I have become more insensitive to people since I’ve been working,” Dr. Robb reports.

As a neurologist/oto-neurologist, he was trained to look for the locus of the pathology, Dr. Robb explains, and the cause of burnout is likely located in the system, not the physician. It might be called a form of toxic workplace syndrome. In that case, remedies such as mindfulness/relaxation/stretching exercises will not help.

One of the biggest contributors to physicians’ stress is the electronic health record (EHR), Dr. Robb writes. “The growth of EHR use is directly proportional to the increase in physician burnout.” He notes that “in primary care, the EHR tax on time is 5.9 hours of an 11.4 hour work day in which EHR use is 4.5 hours in the clinic and 1.4 hours at home.”

Doctors are seeking relief from administrative overload, including badly designed EHRs, by developing a third-party-free practice, away from the “chain-and-ownership” managed-care practice model, Dr. Robb states. Such physicians experience fulfillment, and their patients get unhurried, affordable care from a caring, engaged physician.

Dr. Robb offers a number of practical tips for returning to the practice of private medicine, thereby restoring the patient-physician relationship and the joy in practicing medicine.

The Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons is published by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), a national organization representing physicians in all specialties since 1943.

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