Worried about burnout?

Doctors may have to deal with difficult situations and take great responsibility – often with little support. Learn how to recognise burnout and access help.

What is burnout?

Burnout can occur when our resources are overwhelmed by the emotional and physical demands made on us. The term was originally coined 40 years ago, and has had growing acceptance and recognition as a genuine entity supported by neuroscience. It is now included as a condition in ICD-10.

Why do doctors burn out?

Although burnout is usually the result of a sustained period of exposure to stressors, the time frame can be variable. Factors known to affect doctors include workload, control, reward, community, fairness, and values. A sense of autonomy in the job seems to be protective.

The hallmarks of burnout are:

  • emotional exhaustion – characterized by a feeling of emptiness and emotional blunting.
  • depersonalisation – manifested by a cynical attitude and negativity.
  • reduced personal accomplishment – doubts about personal and professional effectiveness.

Early recognition and remediation is key. As is being prepared to seek help – it is a legitimate condition.

Helping ourselves

There may be organisational factors within the NHS which are hard to address and can impact personal resilience. There are however, some personal protective steps you can take that are within your control.

Self-awareness: being aware and reflective is helpful in work and outside it. Having a realistic view of what is achievable and an awareness of your strengths and weaknesses can reduce frustration. Doctors are notoriously bad at demonstrating self-compassion!

Time management and goal setting: in particular, managing your time to make space for time off and recharging. A healthy work/life balance may need planning and effort to make it happen. Clarifying your values by knowing what life you want to lead can help your resolve.

Practice self-care: Eating a healthy diet and taking regular exercise is important for positive mental health. Watch out for negative self-talk: instead, regularly call loved ones to check in, or try to focus on reasons to be grateful.

Getting support for stress and burnout

Sometimes prevention, self-care and support from our colleagues, GP, friends and family aren’t enough and we need to ask for extra help. It is not a sign of weakness but of maturity and self-awareness.  Here are some further sources of support:

More information

RMBF to launch programme for PTSD and moral injury support