Burn out

Flickr cc shared by alfromelkhorn

Burn out …. who hasn’t experienced it working in health care?  We are under the gun, trying to deliver health care to the maximum amount of patients in the least possible amount of time.

I recently read a great post written by Dike Drummond on “Compassion Fatigue”. I had never heard the term before, but it resonated with me as a truth. Compassion fatigue is a signal that burn out is approaching. What struck me was the way it was described. Not the typical symptoms of just being tired and unenthusiastic.

Compassion fatigue is when you find yourself challenged to care about your patients in the way you know is proper and expected in your position. One of the key components of quality healthcare is the ability for you to connect with your patients and for them to sense that connection….

Cynicism, sarcasm and feeling put upon are the first signs

If you find yourself being cynical or sarcastic about your patients you have compassion fatigue. It can come in the little voice in your head, or mumbling under your breath or “venting” to your colleagues or staff.

There have definitely been times in my professional life when I have felt this way. When an “interruption” by a patient was a bother while I was trying to complete other work.  There are times when I have definitely felt my empathy was out of reach.

Sometimes the signs are there, but I don’t recognize them. It’s easier to just keep going, be exhausted, unenthusiastic and get through the week.  Easier to stay in the place where you aren’t happy doing what you’re doing, can’t be in the moment, and wish you were anywhere and doing anything else.

At those moments I’ve lost the passion for my work, that spark, the reason I got into this gig in the first place.

And mix that with being physically exhausted and feeling like your work has no bigger purpose or meaning…that’s burn out.

Drummond has many suggestions for battling compassion fatigue including scheduled rest, exercise and personal time.  I would also add that as health professionals we need to feel our work is making a difference.  If we feel we are simply handing T3s to the next addict, managing drug shortages and talking to insurance companies… it is difficult to see the real difference we are making in the lives of our patients.  That can leave us unenthusiastic and just plain tired.

So, I would add to Drummond’s suggestion that as health professionals we need to find meaning in our work.  We need to see tangibly that we are making a difference for our patients.  The easiest way to do this is by being as involved as possible in patient care.  Get involved in improving patient  therapy, not just the solving of all the technical problems.  We need to rediscover our role as experts in medication management., carve out minutes in our days for those follow up phone calls, and keep on learning as we move forward in our practice.