The medical profession can be a stressful occupation. In some cases, this leads to burnout, depression and disillusionment with the job.
Burnout prevention at an organisational level is important, but this is hard to take on as an individual, particularly if you’re already feeling burnt out. An important first step is to focus on what you can control – and this starts with personal health. Like all health issues, prevention is easier than the cure, which is why burnout prevention is so important.
Doctors face a large number of risk factors for burnout and mental health issues like depression. Studies have found that mental illness rates are disproportionately high among doctors. This is particularly the case among junior doctors, where working long hours in under-staffed environments are the norm.
Another issue is that doctors tend to be reluctant to seek appropriate medical care.
According to the Royal College of Australasian Physicians, signs of burnout and depression to look for include:
• Emotional exhaustion
• Perceived clinical ineffectiveness
• Depersonalisation in relationships with patients and/or colleagues
There are no downsides to prioritising and optimising your own physical and mental health. Healthier doctors make better doctors.
Do not self-treat or self-prescribe. Establish contact with a GP outside of your family and work circles. See your GP when you need to and consider regular health checks.
Establish a ‘buffer zone' between work and home. Schedule breaks and holidays and try to maintain your paid hours (this means not starting early and finishing late for every single shift!).
Schedule time for your own needs and make this a priority, not a wish list. Make time for exercise and to prepare healthy meals. Prioritise some time every week to do something you enjoy or find relaxing.
Use your colleagues for support. Get involved in professional support networks like a mentor programme or peer support network.
Recognise that your personal and professional life will be affected by work-related stress. Learn to notice the signs of excessive stress and burnout in both yourself and colleagues, and find out what you can do locally to help. Act now, not later.
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