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Mental Fitness

Mental Fitness: The New Remedy for Physician Burnout

Doctors standing in a line with arms crossed wearing face masks

Published March 22, 2023
by Positive Intelligence

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), a record 63% of U.S. doctors reported at least one instance of burnout in 2021. Although record-high physician burnout started as a response to pandemic stress, it continues to be a concern around the world. One-third of U.S. doctors and one-fourth of European doctors have considered leaving the profession in the past year. The AMA predicts a shortage of 38,000 to 124,000 U.S. physicians by 2034.

Burnout has always been a concern for healthcare professionals, who are exposed to prolonged, high levels of stress, but physician burnout is becoming increasingly prevalent today for a number of reasons. Some factors contributing to burnout include increased workload, administrative burden, lack of autonomy, emotional demands on the job, financial pressure, and stigma surrounding mental health.

Physician burnout is a complex and multifaceted issue, and addressing it requires a multifaceted approach that involves changes to the healthcare system, support for physicians, and increased awareness of the importance of mental health in the workplace. Mental fitness training can be an effective practice for physicians looking for ways to manage stress, beat burnout, and maximize performance.

What are the primary sources of physician burnout?

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress. It is characterized by feelings of cynicism, detachment, and a reduced sense of accomplishment. While burnout has always been a concern for healthcare professionals, it has become increasingly prevalent in recent years due to a number of stressors.

1. Increased workload

Physicians today are facing higher workloads than ever before. This is due to a combination of factors, including an aging population, increased demand for healthcare services, and a shortage of healthcare professionals. Many physicians are working long hours and are expected to see more patients in a shorter amount of time.

2. Administrative burden

Healthcare professionals are facing increasing amounts of administrative work, such as documentation and data entry. This administrative burden can take up a significant amount of time and can be frustrating for physicians who feel that they are spending more time on paperwork than on patient care.

3. Lack of autonomy

Physicians are highly trained professionals who are used to making important decisions about patient care. However, many physicians feel that they have lost some of their autonomy in recent years. This is due to increased regulation and oversight from government agencies, insurance companies, and hospital administrators.

4. Electronic health records (EHRs)

While EHRs have many benefits, they can also be a source of stress and burnout for healthcare professionals. Many physicians feel that they are spending too much time entering data into the system.

5. Emotional demands of the job

Physicians are often exposed to high levels of stress and trauma in their work. This emotional burden can take a toll on physicians over time and can contribute to feelings of burnout.

6. Financial pressures

The healthcare industry is undergoing significant changes, and many physicians are feeling the financial pressures of these changes. Physicians may feel that they are being asked to do more with less, and may be experiencing reductions in reimbursement rates or other financial incentives.

7. Stigma surrounding mental health

Many physicians feel that they cannot talk openly about their own mental health concerns, for fear of being seen as weak or unprofessional. This can lead to a lack of support and resources for physicians who are struggling with burnout or other mental health issues.

Administrative fixes provide only temporary relief for physician burnout

Burnout is a multilayer challenge for individuals and organizations. Traditional administrative fixes like salary increases, additional time off, increased flexibility, and autonomy over work schedules provide only temporary relief. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, these stress relief efforts in healthcare show a “profound lack of alignment between caregivers’ values and the reconfigured healthcare system.” 

When left unchecked, stressors compound, leading to feelings of anxiousness, self-doubt, anger, and frustration that hinder physicians on the job. Within healthcare teams, one team member’s stress can create a ripple effect that sabotages performance and patient care. 

“Most teams work too hard, experience too much conflict and stress, and vastly underachieve their potential,” says Shirzad Chamine, Founder and CEO of Positive Intelligence®. “As a result, individual well-being declines, negative emotions increase, and the team becomes ineffective and dysfunctional.”

Mental fitness training can build a lasting solution for physician wellbeing

Mental fitness training is a set of exercises, practices, and techniques designed to strengthen the mind and improve wellbeing.

“Mental fitness training builds the core mental muscles and neural pathways to a positive mindset, creating less stress for individuals and teams,” says Chamine. “Developing the root-level factors of performance and well-being simplifies personal and professional development to impact various challenges, including stress and burnout, relationships, performance, resilience, leadership, and happiness.”

The Positive Intelligence mental fitness program represents a breakthrough in the ability to raise Emotional Intelligence (EQ) among physicians and their teams. Positive Intelligence’s factor analysis research dramatically simplifies the process of building EQ by identifying the root-level building blocks of EQ. In the Positive Intelligence program, 17 out of 18 EQ competencies are automatically developed through intercepting negative thought patterns and activating the self-command center of the brain.

Healthcare professionals who strengthen these EQ competencies through mental fitness training are better able to handle the challenges that come their way including:

  • Burnout caused by increased workload, administrative burden, and emotional demands
  • Discouragement due to lack of autonomy and financial pressures
  • Decreased productivity due to high stress levels and mental health stigma

    Providing the highest standard of care requires a multifaceted approach to reducing physician burnout—one that includes mental fitness training. Providing the tools and training to cultivate a positive mindset can help physicians manage stress effectively, reduce burnout, and ultimately, increase productivity and wellbeing.

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