Editor's Note: which features contributions from members of the medical community. These blogs are an opportunity for bloggers to engage with readers about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Rebekah Bernard, MD, a family physician at Gulf Coast Direct Primary Care in Fort Myers, Florida. The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of or UBM Medica.
The practice of medicine in our current healthcare system is making physicians sick, with levels of burnout and mental strain increasing across every specialty.
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Burnout has become so bad that physicians are increasingly leaving the workforce, with the 2016 Physicians Foundation Report reporting that 49% of doctors were actively making plans to decrease patient care either by entering early retirement, changing to a nonclinical role or switching to a lower volume concierge-type practice.” Even more sadly, about 400 physicians per year stop seeing patients for the most tragic of cause: because they take their own lives.
The good news is that there are steps that physicians can take to improve our well-being. One of the best ways to start the process of healing is through work with a psychologist.
According to Steve Cohen, PsyD, it’s best to use psychology “as a preventive or prophylactic measure. By the time you feel overwhelmed and on edge, you are probably entering crisis or burnout mode. Working with a psychologist before you feel lost or overwhelmed can help you to avoid conflict and even medical errors due to exhaustion and frustration.”
And while psychology can help us to cope with our own emotional stressors, there are other less obvious benefits that doctors can gain which will help to improve our day-to-day lives.
1. Improve relationships. I love to say: “The people who really need a psychologist usually won’t go. That’s why the rest of us have to.” I really believe this to be true. There are so many people that we encounter every day who are desperately in need of professional help, but they simply lack the insight or the inclination necessary to take that step. These people are often incredibly challenging to work or live with. A psychologist can teach us ways to interact more effectively with difficult people in our lives, or how to best communicate based on different personality types. Psychology can also help us decide when it’s time to end emotionally harmful and toxic relationships.
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2. Get better results for your patients. We often have a multitude of issues to address in a short amount of time in our office. Psychology can teach effective ways to help patients prioritize their problems, help us to communicate our message more clearly and allow us to understand the barriers to compliance. Psychology can also help us to learn to acknowledge and process the negative emotions that occur every day in our job—such as frustration and anger that certain patient types can elicit in us (“transference”), or sadness and hurt that comes from being the bearer of bad news.