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Reach out for a helping hand

December 21, 2015 Quality and innovation By Steven Gamburg, MD

According to statistics, we’re a pretty challenged group. Physicians have high rates of burnout and depression. At first it seems ironic in a profession dedicated to healing. But perhaps it’s not all that surprising.

The demands of the job result in long hours of work, which can detract from family time, social life, and enjoyable hobbies. Most studies include “physician” in the list of top 10 most stressful professions. Fatigue, fear of making a mistake, and financial concerns can result in frustration, cynicism, burnout and depression.

A consequence of these feelings many times is one of isolation. We often don’t feel comfortable sharing with others our sense of personal despair. There’s a stigma to admitting you are burned out or depressed. By nature, physicians are competitive and resilient, and confessing those feelings can be associated with guilt and failure.

The isolation can be cyclical. Without having someone to share these concerns with, we feel lonelier, left out…and even more depressed or burned out.

“Numerous global studies involving nearly every medical and surgical specialty indicate that approximately one of every three physicians is experiencing burnout at any given time.” — Tait Shanafelt, MD, Faculty, Mayo Clinic

If this is as common as the data indicate, then maybe we can take some solace in “misery loves company.” Many of our colleagues have, at times, experienced these feelings. Some more so than others.

Isolating yourself is not the way to heal. The improvement starts when you decide to reach out for help, perhaps by consulting with a trusted friend, physician, family member or other professional.

Years ago, a patient came into our emergency room at 3:00 am. She could not sleep and felt she was decompensating due to on-the-job stress. One would wonder what kind of job could wreak that much havoc. “I work in a tanning salon,” she said.

Any job can cause stress. We need to recognize it and act on it. She did the right thing. She sought help.

A good resource for physicians is the Pennsylvania Medical Society’s Physicians’ Health Program, available at foundationpamedsoc.org/physicians-health-program/php-services.

Steven Gamburg, MD, is president of the Main Line Health Medical Staff, chair of emergency medicine at Main Line Health, and a Diplomate of the American Board of Emergency Medicine.