Physician burnout is physician abuse

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Physician burnout is the latest trend among doctors. There are books, workshops, even special breathing exercises for physician burnout. Suddenly every other doctor I meet has burnout. And half of all med students have burnout before they graduate. WTF.

We enter medicine as inspired, intelligent, compassionate humanitarians. Soon we’re cynical and exhausted. How did all these amazing people get so screwed up so fast? Attention medical students and doctors: It’s not your fault.

Burnout is physical and mental collapse caused by overwork. So why are we blaming the victims?

The fact is medical students and physicians are collapsing because they are suffering from acute on chronic abuse. At some medical schools, 100 percent of students report abuse:

And it doesn’t get better. Physicians are overworked and overwhelmed with bureaucratic B.S. during most of their careers. They are trapped in assembly-line big-box clinics where they are treated like factory workers and berated for not seeing enough patients per day. Some experience human rights abuses in our nation’s hospitals.

Think this is unusual? It’s not. Physicians all over the nation are suffering similar mistreatment at their health care clinics. Folks, this is not health care.

Our health care cycle of abuse starts on day one of medical school. Abused medical students are trained to be abused doctors who may one day end up abusing patients. Wait! We wanted to help people, not harm them.

Attention medical students and doctors:

If any of this sounds familiar, your correct diagnosis isn’t burnout, it’s abuse. That’s right. If you’ve been mistreatment or harmed at work or school, you are a victim of abuse.

How do you know if you’re being mistreated?

  1. You don’t get lunch or bathroom breaks.
  2. You are forced to work multiple-day shifts.
  3. You are not allowed to sleep.
  4. You are forced to see unsafe numbers of patients per day.
  5. You can never seem to find “work-life balance.”
  6. You are threatened.
  7. You are controlled by fear tactics.
  8. And if you ask for help, you’re called a slacker or worse.

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s not your fault.

You are the victim of abuse.

So what should you do?  Sign up for a resiliency class? Meditate? Take deep breaths?   Your goal should not be to cope with abuse. Your goal should be to stop it.

Physician burnout is a diagnosis that blames the victim, not the perpetrator. In fact, the term physician burnout IS physician abuse. It implies that you are to blame, not the system and perpetrators of the mistreatment.

To prevent burnout, health care institutions may offer resiliency classes to train doctors to prioritize self-care and manage their emotions. Warning: You can not meditate your way out of abuse. You can not take enough deep breaths to end your abuse.

What you must do: If you are being abused, you must leave your abuser. Need help with your escape route? Call me!

You were born to be a healer, not a victim.

Pamela Wible pioneered the community-designed ideal medical clinic and blogs at Ideal Medical Care. She is the author of Pet Goats and Pap Smears. Watch her TEDx talk, How to Get Naked with Your Doctor. She hosts the physician retreat, Live Your Dream, to help her colleagues heal from grief and reclaim their lives and careers.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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