Burnout is a constant problem in emergency medicine. As physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners, our jobs are constantly pulling us in a dozen directions. Eventually, this takes a toll on our minds, our bodies and our job performance, which ultimately affects our patients.
Physician Burnout by Specialty
Overall, physicians experience higher rates of burnout than non-physicians. Emergency medicine physicians specifically have the highest burnout rate of all medical specialties. Close to 60% of emergency medicine physicians report burnout.
This is not to say that PAs and NPs, as well as other emergency room staff, aren’t also affected by burnout. We are asked to undergo the same stresses as supervising docs, so we’re susceptible to symptoms of burnout.
Why Burnout in Emergency Medicine
Emergency medicine is a unique field of medicine that puts a lot of stress on its advanced practitioners. The hours are long (compared to other physicians and the general population) and often not consistent. These long hours come with little control over when you work them and who you see during those hours. This is the nature of emergency medicine, but it leads to burnout more quickly than preventative medicine physicians, who often set their own schedule and see patients during scheduled times.
Emergency medicine is rife with responsibility in incredibly difficult situations. No professional can completely distance themselves from the people around them. It just so happens that in emergency medicine, the people around you (your patients) are having very difficult days. In extreme cases, this can lead to secondary PTSD.
As time goes on, healthcare and insurance become more complicated. There are also less emergency rooms and fewer resources, but more patients to serve. For practitioners who are in the field of emergency medicine to help people, this is frustrating and can lead to burnout.
Physician Burnout Treatment
I recently talked about how I personally fight burnout as a practicing PA, lecturer and business owner on my podcast, Talk EM. These are strategies I find helpful in my personal battle with burnout.
As physician burnout becomes a bigger drain on the emergency medicine industry, hospitals are beginning to address the issue. Recruiting a physician can cost a department upwards of $100,000, so hospitals and other medical organizations want to keep their current physicians efficient and effective.
You work surrounded by other emergency medicine practitioners who are likely experiencing similar symptoms. There has been a stigma around burnout in the past, but individual practitioners and the industry as a whole are beginning to understand the importance of talking about burnout.
Professionals can really help emergency medicine practitioners battle burnout.
While emergency medicine is different now than it was 20 years ago, a lot of the most stressful aspects of the job remain the same. Find a successful physician, PA or NP that enjoyed their career in trauma. Learn from them.
One of the biggest steps you can take to keep burnout at bay is making sure you’re rested. Fatigue can affect your mental state pretty quickly, and between long hours, night shifts and the needs of your family, sleep can easily be low on your list of priorities.
Some emergency departments are finding success with a dedicated space, away from patients and your desk, with room for physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners to decompress after a particularly stressful patient.