Why Healthcare Practitioners are Burning Out
+ 7 Techniques to Regain Balance
Feel like you’re on the brink of burnout? If you’re running a healthcare practice, you probably are… In fact, a recent study conducted by the Mayo Clinic showed that over 50% of health practitioners in the United States show symptoms of burnout. In the UK, the rates are lower (at around 32%), but this is still cause for concern. If healthcare practitioners are struggling, how are they supposed to help their patients?
If you’ve been finding it difficult to get off the couch, there might be a medical reason for it.
Burnout isn’t an excuse – it’s a real syndrome that’s at the root of many problems that health professionals are facing.
Burnout is defined as ‘the emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress’ – and it has serious implications. In addition to the impact that burnout has on your ability to do your job properly, there are also far-reaching personal implications.
Here’s why health practitioners are so susceptible to burnout…
Having worked with health practitioners for many years, there are three things that most practice owners have in common… First is the often-crippling mental load of caring for others, second, the guilt that comes with feeling like you’re never able to do enough, and third, the stress of running a small business. Let’s unpack each of these.
The Mental Load of Caring for Others
The question here is ‘how much is too much?’
As a healthcare professional, it’s your duty to make the care of your clients your primary concern and to give your best to each one. But emotionally, this can be a heavy load to carry.
Trying to balance optimal care with the time pressure to see more patients is difficult to reconcile. And when it comes to home time, it can be very difficult to mentally leave work behind.
Understandably, many practitioners end up suffering from ‘compassion fatigue’ – where the burden of caring deeply and repeatedly for others may cause them to become indifferent to the needs and suffering of their clients.
The Guilt of Not Being Able to Do Enough
In healthcare, there is always more that can be done, from different tests to new regimes and different therapies.
But you can’t do it all, and you certainly can’t always fix people.
Of course you know this, but yet it’s natural that when you have a quiet moment at home, your mind is fills with things you should have said, ideas of what you could have done differently or better, and how you should have better handled a situation with a client.
The Stresses of Running a Small Business
Running your own business, in addition to keeping up with your caseload, is often the most overwhelming part of owning a practice.
There are just never enough hours in the day!
Between managing staff, trying to balance the books and working on new ways to market your business to prospective clients, there is just too much to do. And in many cases, it may not be your strongest skill set. You’re a star with the clinical side of your profession, but you probably have limited training or formal education on how to successfully run a business.
Over and above your caseload there are always letters to write, accounts overdue, marketing that you should be doing, staff management issues, payroll – and that’s if everything is running according to schedule!
In the UK, 73% of small business owners said that running their own business had put strain on their mental health. Then if you consider the business and admin stress coupled with the responsibility of your patients’ well-being – it really is a lot to deal with.
As a health practice owner, you are in a uniquely challenging position. So, what’s the solution?
7 Self-care Strategies to put in place today
1) Surround Yourself with Great People
If you have the privilege of building your practice from the ground up, try to hire people that you’ll enjoy working with (yes, actually make this part of your recruiting criteria!). But even with the best people in place, it’s easy to take each other for granted or slip into patterns where you each operate in your own separate worlds. Instead, make a conscious effort to see the good in people and figure out ways that you can energise each other. Share some jokes, develop little rituals, and fully appreciate each other – it makes a huge difference!
Of course, if there are problems within your team, this also has a huge negative impact. Don’t just let things deteriorate, have the hard conversations with those that are draining your energy or negatively affecting the team. If this doesn’t work, try rearranging your schedule to minimise the negative impact of certain team members. And if this isn’t an option, try re-framing the situation in your mind and accept their negative tendencies as idiosyncrasies you can laugh off (or ignore!)
If your colleagues are not professionally stimulating and fun, you can also take active steps towards building a network of like-minded practitioners or practice managers. The positive effects of having people who understand your situation cannot be underestimated.
2) The Power of Positive Thinking
Giving 100% every day at work can be exhausting, and it’s easy to forget why you started doing what you do in the first place.
You probably already know that developing a mindfulness practice can be extremely helpful. It can server to remind you of your purpose and the great privilege you have in being able to make a difference in the lives of others. You might need to think back to why you chose to become a health professional in the first place to rediscover some of your passion.
Re-framing your tasks with a mindset of gratitude is extremely powerful. For mental health professionals, this is not new information and something that you probably encourage your clients to do. But the key here is to put it into practice for yourself. Among other things, mindfulness can help combat negative thought processes that can manifest in anger, anxiety, depression and heightened stress levels.
Tip: Develop a grateful mindset
Some suggestions that can help you develop your own positive mantra:
- ‘I know I’m helping this person – even if they don’t see it yet’
- ‘I believe that this is my calling and every small difference I make is worth doing’
- ‘It is a privilege to help, and this is the person that I have been entrusted with right here, right now’
3) Work on Creating Order in Your Business
As humans we thrive on order, but when you’re overwhelmed by the day-to-day operations of running a practice, it can be hard to see the wood for the trees. We’ll go into more detail of some simple business systems to put in place in an upcoming article, but to get your business in tip-top shape, these ideas can help…
- Keep a list – Make a short list of things that need doing and do one thing at a time. That way you can make gradual improvements to the business without it taking so much mental energy.
- Tidy up and de-clutter – Like your home, your clinic needs regular spring cleaning. By creating an environment that is calm and ordered, you’ll find new energy to start tackling bigger tasks.
- Put processes in place – Document all the tasks that your staff complete on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. This will give you a better idea of how your staff are allocating their time, where tasks can be streamlined and where there are opportunities to introduce efficiencies.
- Invest in systems – Reduce human error and wasted time by implementing a practice management software solution (we know a great one!).
- Get a business mentor – Most practice owners and managers have a background in healthcare not business, so finding a business mentor who can help you manage your business effectively and efficiently is a really smart step to take.
4) Make a Smooth Transition from Work to Play
It can be difficult to immediately transition from a high-intensity work day to enjoying a relaxed evening. Having an “end of day” ritual works as a mental line in the sand that separates one from the other. It can also help reduce tension at home because you’re in a better frame of mind when you re-enter family life.
Effective Rituals for the End of Your Work Day
Some ideas for rituals to help de-stress after a long day:
- Go for a walk around the block
- Phone a friend
- Have a cup of tea
- Do a yoga class
5) Set Clear Boundaries for Yourself
When you shut down your computer or walk out the clinic door, it’s your time – even if it’s only for a short period. You might need to log on later in the evening, but your brain needs a break. It can be difficult to prevent your practice management responsibilities from spilling into your evenings and weekends, so put practical, workable boundaries in place.
If you need to do additional work outside of your daily hours, allocate it to one or two evenings a week, or go in to work early to get it done. If that isn’t enough time, then structure your evenings so that you get a good mix of work and relaxation. But whatever you choose, be mindful of what you’re doing. If you choose to consciously allocate the time to work, great! But don’t let “work” become your default activity. You need to build in some downtime too.
Tips for setting work boundaries
This might be easier said than done, but when possible:
- Switch off your phone or put it on silent and put it in a cupboard so that you’re not tempted to check it every time you walk past.
- If you provide an on-call service, ensure that you’re available when it’s your shift, but otherwise leave the work to the person who is on duty that evening.
- If you need to do more work, set a specific time for when that will be, then focus on being present with your family outside of that time.
6) Don’t Forget That Even Superheroes Need a Break!
Scheduling holidays is one of the best ways to prevent burnout. There are several studies that point to the physical, emotional and mental benefits of taking a complete break from your everyday life.
Tips for energising holidays
To get the most for your holidays:
- Ensure that you have someone running your practice while you’re away so that you can switch off your phone and log out of your emails for the duration of your breaks.
- Schedule regular breaks throughout the year. Always have your next holiday planned, even if you haven’t booked it yet, know when, where and with whom you’re going.
- Plan holidays that align with your interests. If you are more introverted and like peace and quiet, book a secluded beach or mountain break. Conversely, if you’re energised by busyness, people and new environments; book a trip to a different city and invite some friends along.
- Plan them in advance so that you can put structures in place at work that will enable you to take a break without worrying about your business (and so that you can look forward to them!)
- Try to take off two weeks or more at least once a year
7) Get the Basics in Place: Make Sure You’re Sleeping, Eating and Exercising Properly
Lastly, and this goes almost without saying, you need to have the basics in place. Setting up (and sticking to) a good sleep schedule, exercise routine and a healthy diet is essential to being able to function optimally. When you have these three building blocks in place, you can stave off exhaustion and pack the most into your working hours without feeling that you have nothing left to give at the end of the day.
Putting strategies in place to prevent burnout takes effort – which can be difficult to do if you’re already feeling overwhelmed by the pressures and demands of your work.
The best approach is therefore to start small. Think of something that you really enjoy doing, then try to fit that in once a week – whether it be meeting up with a friend, doing a gym class or reading a book. Or maybe set aside some time to plan one or two weekends away over the next couple of months. Then look at re-organising your waiting room or tackling some other big task! These small steps will help energise you and will give you the momentum you need to tackle some of the bigger projects that will reduce strain on you and ultimately help you avoid burnout.
Wait! Don’t just let this be another article you read and move on!
If you’ve found yourself nodding at different points and subconsciously making a list of things that you should be doing differently, then strike while the iron’s hot. Decide what changes you’re ready to make, and then start actually doing them.
And if you know a practice manager that needs to read this, help a buddy out and share this article around.
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Sarah Sealey, Physiotherapist
Dr. Kristine Kafer, Clinical Psychologist