I’m experiencing a bit of writer’s block. I’ve spent most of the past week thinking about what to write and decided that maybe if I just start writing I’ll think of something.
After a quick google search, I realized that I suffer from this at least once a month. Sometimes I just can’t muster up the compassion a patient is seeking. Sometimes I just don’t care. Does that make me a bad doctor? Sometimes, I think it does.
I have some patients who don’t cope. With anything. Traumatic childhoods lead to traumatic adolescence which inevitably lead to traumatic adulthood. These patients learn to rely on others to fix their lives, most commonly their doctor. Finding support for these individuals is difficult. While they may present as depressed or anxious, or with chronic back pain, not only are they seeking the golden answer to solving their pain, they often come to the office expecting it. As if they are somehow entitled to it.
- “What do you mean I can’t get my physiotherapy covered?”
- “How am I supposed to pay for that if I can’t work because my back pain is so bad?”
- “Why can’t I see a psychiatrist once a week?”
- “Why won’t you help me?”
I’m fairly lucky that I have only a few of these kinds of patients in my practice. Yet, somehow I always seem to see them in the same week. Is it the cycle of the moon? I’m not sure, but I do know that at the end of such a week (this was last week), I am tired. Mentally tired and emotionally drained. I can see how dealing with these “chronics” can lead to a physician’s burnout. I can see how it can lead to my burnout.
So how does one avoid burnout? In particular, how does a physician avoid burnout when dealing with these kinds of patients? A colleague of mine gave me some great advice a few years ago. He told me something really simple. “You can’t fix these people. Don’t even try. Support them as much as you can, but don’t expect to save them. You’re going to lose one or two and it’s not your fault. Remember that and you’ll be fine.”
I’ll pose the question to my readers, physician or not …
What do you do to avoid burnout?