Combat burnout one bite at a time

I can’t speak on behalf of all in my specialty, but I wager that there is a good percentage of radiologists out there who essentially work nonstop from the moment they walk in the door to the moment they leave, working through lunch hours, etc.

Throw in a mandatory meeting every now and then and “the list” of studies to be read can explode, and it can truly be demoralizing.

I have had some days where it was so busy that I honestly did not even have time to take a simple bathroom break (or even time to hydrate to necessitate the need for a bathroom).

I bring with me a 64 oz jug of water to remind me to hydrate each day and on more than one occasion, have returned home with it hardly being touched.

I have heard of colleagues who dictate studies during lunch while holding sandwiches and taking bites between the pauses.

Fortunately, not all days are like this. But days that are can certainly push you further along the burnout continuum.

Many states have mandated periodic breaks for workers, including dedicated lunch breaks.

Lawmakers have recognized how vital a work break is for employee health and safety.

As physicians, how often have we neglected what others are entitled to and therefore put ourselves in harm’s way?

The sacred lunch

Anyone who knows me for any amount of time will discover that I am a big fan of food.

Slogging through the morning workday list only becomes bearable when I start the countdown, anticipating when I get to eat my lunch.

However, one of the worst things that can happen, in my opinion, is that, just when I am about to eat, I get interrupted by a phone call or either a technologist or colleague entering my office and wanting to discuss a case.

I remember one time when my microwave oven just signaled that the meal was ready, and a colleague came in and proceeded to go over a complicated case with me.

By the time I got to eat, 15-20 minutes later, the food was cold and unappetizing.

I have also had instances where I have an actual fork in my mouth and chewing when someone comes in and wants to go over a case.

I find it difficult to continue to eat and discuss at the same time, so invariably, I push my food off to the side and watch it go cold before my eyes.

These occasions certainly pile on to my personal Burnout Factor Units (BFUs).

It is not like I am recreating a fine dining experience in my office and that I require a full lunch hour to eat. Nope, I typically nuke a frozen entree and end up scarfing it down in under 15 minutes. But it seems those 15 minutes often coincide with other clinicians wrapping up their morning schedule and having some free time before they have lunch themselves.

Clawing back protected time and fighting burnout

I decided that if I do not make any attempts to create protected time/space for myself — time that is legally afforded to every other employee in my organization — I am only harming myself, increasing my feelings of being burnt out and subsequently not being of good to anyone.

My new personal policy for work sanity is that my carved out protected time begins the moment I remove my frozen entree from my office fridge and put it into the microwave.

Immediately before doing this, I lock my office door.

I also ignore any phone calls that I may receive during this period.

I may choose to actually read/finish a case while the food is getting warmed up, but that is about the only radiology thing I have on the docket until the last morsel of food has entered my alimentary tract.

It is funny, but this procedure already saved me a lunch interruption on the very day of writing this post, as there was a knock on the door and attempt to open it while I was eating.

I later found out it was a mammography tech who said: “I knew it was your lunch hour and didn’t really want to interrupt you but had a question.”

She ended up solving the issue on her own without my input.

As soon as I am finished eating, again typically within 15 minutes, the door gets unlocked, and my phone is once again open for business.

Take-home

There is no one better out there to look after your well-being than yourself.

You may think you are doing yourself a favor by having an always “open door policy.” But I assure you that unless limits are put in place, like the ones I recently implemented, it can lead to your detriment.

Anything that can be done to preserve your physical and mental health has to take priority.

If you find yourself not able to drink the appropriate amount of fluids during your workday or skipping bathroom breaks, you can slowly start to stress your internal organs, with your kidneys being first in line.

Not only will you find yourself having mental burnout, but you may also find yourself with physical burnout as well.

I have found it is not only OK but necessary to have a “closed-door policy” for some defined period in my workday so that I can keep functioning at a high level not only for the rest of the day but for the rest of my career.

Xrayvsn” is a radiologist and can be reached at his self-titled site, XRAYVSN.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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