My chest and back are sore this week because I was on call last week. It’s my secret to beating burnout. Just keep reading.
The phrase “dermatologist burnout” may seem as oxymoronic as jumbo shrimp, yet both are real. Our work is easier than some other physicians’. Dermatologists don’t sleep in the hospital, and we have many fewer dope-seeking or dying patients. Yet we suffer the same EHR frustrations as any physician. We struggle with an ever-increasing volume of patients and regulations which stultify our ability to care for patients. According to a recent Mayo Clinic Proceedings study, dermatologists had the highest increase in burnout from 32% to 57% ( Mayo Clin Proc. 2015 Dec;90:1600-13 ). Although some have it worse than others, all physicians today are at high risk. Changing external factors is difficult, but modifying internal aspects of burnout can help.
In my department, we take call a week at a time. While on call, doctors from hospitals, clinics, and ERs call and text us. There are also urgent patients to be added on. If there is ever a time to be burned out, it’s during call weeks. Through the years I’ve developed a strategy that has helped me make the most of call week and any other difficult period. I think of the three C’s: Challenges, Colleagues, Charging.
First, I mark difficult weeks on my calendar in red. Do I have extra clinics? Is it post vacation? Am I giving a talk? Then, I set up challenges. For example, I knew last week’s call was going to be tough. So, each morning I challenged myself to do 100 push-ups in 2 minutes, 12 pull-ups, and run 2 miles. I also set goals of plowing through my backlog of journals and upgrading my EHR shortcuts and order sets.
A Navy SEAL training instructor once told me the key to success in BUD/S (the grueling 6-month SEAL training course), is to take care of your teammates:“When you’re focused on the guy to your right and the guy to your left, you find inner strength to endure suffering.” No matter how busy I am, when my phone rings or I get a text, I think to myself, Good, one of my partners needs my help. Framing it that way makes any added work feel lighter.
Lastly, I schedule time to recharge and recover. For example, this morning instead of going to the gym, I had a cappuccino and read the entire Sunday New York Times. Later today, my wife and I are going to see Thor: Ragnarok. In reclining seats. With a craft beer.
My call week was sometimes easy and occasionally arduous. Yet, I taught an ER resident how to recognize zoster in its very early stages. I learned the difference between erythema multiforme major and mycoplasma-induced rash with mucositis, and I reassured a family that their hospitalized 9-year-old was going to be just fine. I didn’t miss a workout (however, no SEAL instructor would have credited my pathetic pull-ups #11 and #12).
My next call isn’t long off, and soon, I must work on a big presentation. Medicine is a marathon, punctuated by sprinting. During stressful periods, I challenge myself physically and mentally, focus on helping others, and take the time to rest and recharge after. I think it has helped me beat burnout, I hope it helps you too.
Dr. Benabio is director of Healthcare Transformation and chief of dermatology at Kaiser Permanente San Diego. The opinions expressed in this column are his own and do not represent those of Kaiser Permanente. Dr. Benabio is @Dermdoc on Twitter. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org