Physicians aren’t burned out. They’re abused.


Please stop using the word burnout. You are not burned out. You’ve been abused. Let’s get the diagnosis right.

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

Burnout is physical and mental collapse caused by overwork.

So why blame 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.

Do you think this gets better? Physicians are overworked and overwhelmed with bureaucratic bullsh*t 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. These are human rights abuses in our nation’s hospitals. This doctor worked seven days in a row with almost no sleep!

And the doctor below. Think she’s burned out? Nope. She has been abused!

Docs, stop playing nice in the sandbox. You are being abused.

You can’t be a victim and healer at the same time.

Only you can stop this.

How do you know if you’re being abused at work?

  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.
  5. You can never seem to find “work-life balance.”
  6. You are threatened verbally, financially — even physically.
  7. You are bullied.
  8. And if you ask for help, you’re called a slacker or worse.

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

You are a victim of abuse.

So what should you do?  Sign up for a resiliency training? 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. The term physician burnout is physician abuse. It implies that YOU are to blame, not the system, not 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 in a year to end your abuse.

What you must do: If you are being abused, you must leave your abuser. I know it’s scary. But you are not alone. Need help with your escape route? Call me! I escaped. You can too.

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.

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