Burning Out on Friday Afternoon

Recently a Mayo Clinic sponsored study reported that the rate of physician burnout was much higher than other careers in the US[1], especially among front-line specialties like Family Medicine. This Friday afternoon in preparation to seeing my last patient it hit me “Is this sensation burnout?” Inwardly groaning–a new middle-aged woman with obesity and several psychiatric meds, my thoughts ran to “Who put her on my schedule damn it. It’s Friday afternoon. What did they think they were doing? Doesn’t anyone care about MY needs when they’re scheduling” or words to that effect. For a few moments I pondered my office life.

Lately, my office looks cleaner, because EHR (electronic health records) hides the mass of unfinished charts instead of having them all stacked on my desk. Now there is no obvious sign of all the work I do–no notice to my employer that I am an important, busy and valuable doctor. Despite the reduction in mess, I rarely leave the office before 7, often am there until 9 and everyone keeps telling me that it will get better, since we’re only four weeks “in”. This is exhausting me but at least my husband frequently meets me at the door with a glass of wine in hand. For this I am grateful since sometimes I finish up my charts on-line from  the couch.

Then there’s House Bill 1, the irritating and unfriendly-to-patient-care narcotic bill that takes up extra time and deprives my patients of therapeutic medications and remains a thorn in my side.

Add to those aggravations the everyday frustrations of practicing medicine in today’s fragmented healthcare system and maybe I needed to worry. This line of thought hit me as  I took a big breath, walking in the door expecting the worst and spent the next thirty minutes with a delightful woman who was already taking steps to improve her health. She was working with a trainer, she’d already started losing about twenty pounds. She was upbeat and interesting and I walked out of that room energized.

This Friday I got lucky. Maybe next Friday I’ll be drained. Reflecting on the end of my day I realized that’s just how the rhythm flows in Family Medicine. Like most professions, some days are better than others, but looking at the averages, my curve is mostly on the up. I still like what I do.

1. Shanafelt, Tait D. Burnout and Satisfaction With Work-Life Balance Among US Physicians Relative to the General US Population. August 20, 2012. http://www.webcitation.org/6AtdqOc4p

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