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Practicing medicine is a high-stress, pressure-filled career. Long hours spent negotiating the maze of administrative constraints and obligations, directing patients’ health needs, and inflicting exacting demands on themselves take a heavy toll on the physical and mental well-being of American healthcare professionals. This non-stop pressure results in more than 400 suicides a year, “more than double that of the general population.”[1] Physician burnout can also lead to potentially fatal medical errors, amplifying the burden of the job.

Many physicians drive themselves so hard that they don’t recognize the signs of burnout. “When physicians are burned out, they noticeably go from happy and inquisitive to rushed and indifferent. As a result, both the patient and physician suffer.”[2] This is why emphasizing physician wellness is so important to every medical practice.

Physician wellness refers to when physicians are reflecting on or self-evaluating their own well-being. Physician wellness is more than just the absence of illness. It is about maximizing their quality of life. It is about improving the quality of their relationships with their patients, family, and friends.[3]

By recognizing the danger signs of burnout, medical colleagues can make a world of difference to struggling physicians, especially since those colleagues may have faced burnout themselves and can empathize. Physicians should be encouraged to take time to care for themselves—seeing their own general practitioners for physical and mental checkups in lieu of self-diagnosis, taking time away from the practice to be with family and friends, and exploring the world outside the four walls of their consultation rooms.

Moreover, there are options available to help physicians redesign their practices in order to reinvigorate their careers and establish a more satisfying work-life balance. Staying healthy in both mind and body makes for a happier, more productive physician, which, in turn, makes for happier patients. It is a virtuous circle of wellness.

Caring for other physicians requires sensitivity and empathy. We must encourage doctors to take time off for themselves, prioritize self-care, encourage others to do the same, and provide emotional support to colleagues in need.

[1] Mangrolia, A. (2019, April 19). Unwell physicians and burnout put patients at risk. PhysiciansPractice.com. Retrieved from https://www.physicianspractice.com/burnout/unwell-physicians-and-burnout-put-patients-risk.

[2] Berg, S. (2018, August 30). How to recognize and respond to burnout in a fellow physician. AMA.org. Retrieved from https://www.ama-assn.org/practice-management/physician-health/how-recognize-and-respond-burnout-fellow-physician.

[3] Mangrolia, A. (2019, April 19). Unwell physicians and burnout put patients at risk. PhysiciansPractice.com. Retrieved from https://www.physicianspractice.com/burnout/unwell-physicians-and-burnout-put-patients-risk.

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