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Physician Burnout and Sadness: Powerful Expressions

Keith L. Martin | September 12, 2019 | Contributor Information

Many physicians and other clinicians try to help reduce stress and burnout on the job by expressing themselves through art. They use paint, clay, or other media to reflect what's going on in their personal and professional lives.

Conveying the misery of burnout was part of the goal of Expressions of Clinician Well-Being, a project through the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) allowing artists to express what clinician burnout and clinician resilience/well-being looks like. The purpose of the project is to promote greater awareness and understanding of barriers to better well-being for those working in healthcare, and is part of NAM's Action Collaborative on Clinician Well-Being and Resilience.

The following creative and intriguing works are from artists across the United States, accompanied by their own description of how their art represents burnout and well-being.

[Note: Some of the artist commentary was edited from the original.]

©Sapana Adhikari/Image courtesy of Sapana Adhikari

Physician Burnout and Sadness: Powerful Expressions

Keith L. Martin | September 12, 2019 | Contributor Information

Silence

Emergency medicine physician Sapana Adhikari:

The physician in today's society has much to say but often feels unable or afraid to speak up. The painting depicts a "model" head with perfect proportions, representing the idealized image of a physician in today's society. Although the model appears perfect, the viewer subtly notices the medical tape, used to silence the physician. The stethoscope around the neck, in the familiar, yet suffocating way, is strategically perched to the viewer to show that the physician is listening to what is going on all around but cannot say a word.

©Elizabeth Canterbury/Image courtesy of Elizabeth Canterbury

Physician Burnout and Sadness: Powerful Expressions

Keith L. Martin | September 12, 2019 | Contributor Information

Don't Slip

Emergency medicine pharmacist Elizabeth Canterbury:

As a lifelong native of Huntington, West Virginia, and a hospital employee, the reality of the opioid epidemic is at the forefront of my daily life. This piece aims to convey the often overlooked or unrecognized fact that contrary to popular belief, addiction affects individuals across the socioeconomic continuum. As healthcare professionals, it is easy to become jaded and cynical. We must remember that addiction is not a moral failing or a choice; rather, it is a pathophysiologic condition which can affect anyone. No one is immune.

©Allen Firestone/Image courtesy of Allen Firestone

Physician Burnout and Sadness: Powerful Expressions

Keith L. Martin | September 12, 2019 | Contributor Information

Talking Is Not Listening

Orthodontist Allen Firestone:

The best way to hear a colleague is to listen. The best way to hear a patient is to listen. Talking is useful to get them to talk. You can't talk and listen at the same time.

©Paul Milligan/Image courtesy of Paul Milligan

Physician Burnout and Sadness: Powerful Expressions

Keith L. Martin | September 12, 2019 | Contributor Information

Treat the Person, Treat Yourself

Pharmacist Paul Milligan:

Clinician burnout occurs when the rewards of the profession are overwhelmed by the demands. The principal reward is the feeling of pride when you show compassion to a patient or their loved one. To not only help cure, but to heal. This brief moment in time, when the clinician takes the hand of a patient, is often the only reward one gets during the day. The benefits of this moment are wide-ranging to the patient, the family, and the clinician. I captured this moment in order to remind the clinician of the real purpose of our careers: To cure, yes; but to heal is even more important. Don't pass up these precious opportunities.

"They may forget your name, but they'll never forget how you made them feel."

–Maya Angelou

©David Morris/Image courtesy of David Morris

Physician Burnout and Sadness: Powerful Expressions

Keith L. Martin | September 12, 2019 | Contributor Information

Burnout, Burnout

Physician David Morris:

Many clinicians who experience symptoms of burnout have a sensation of feeling "boxed in." Coping skills of "overfunctioning," perfectionism, and obsessive-compulsive tendencies that provide rewards through the early stages of one's career may no longer provide the same gratification in a changing environment that results from caring for others and relieving their suffering.

The experience that healthcare professionals have from burnout can lead to other harmful problems, including alcohol abuse, substance abuse, and suicide. At the same time, healthcare organizations and administrators can view the cardboard box as fragile and at risk for combustion.

The use of a clear Z73.0, the ICD-10 code for burnout, outside of the box can be interpreted in many ways. I hope people can envision and think about burnout with a positive perspective of well-being and resilience.

©Lisa Samaha/Image courtesy of Lisa Samaha

Physician Burnout and Sadness: Powerful Expressions

Keith L. Martin | September 12, 2019 | Contributor Information

Once Fractured

Dentist Lisa Samaha:

Upon completion, it became clear to me that Once Fractured represented the actualization of a chaotic, "fractured" time in my past when my world was overwhelmed with the stresses of owning my own dental practice and the raising of my young children as a single woman. It was through my art that my subconscious led me on a journey back to that unsteady time and place that was nearly devoid of creativity and spiritual growth. In so doing, it offered me a point of healing.

Through my artistic growth, I have come to the awareness that deep within everyone exists a talent and need for artistic expression. It is when the creativity and spirituality of one's soul is denied, that the soul becomes prey to stress and chaos.

©Julie Shinn/Image courtesy of Julie Shinn

Physician Burnout and Sadness: Powerful Expressions

Keith L. Martin | September 12, 2019 | Contributor Information

Isolation Mask

Oncology nurse Julie Shinn:

I have the privilege to help patients at the most difficult times of their lives, but the weight of their suffering leaves a lasting imprint on my well-being. Isolation Mask depicts a nurse in her modern-day armor: the familiar and comforting white uniform/cap, a stethoscope, and an isolation mask. The images and words capture the constraints that smother clinicians on a daily basis: not enough time, dealing with upset family members, poor staff-to-patient ratios, guilt, and worry.

Healthcare is physically, emotionally, and mentally draining, and while great strides have been instituted to protect patients, more needs to be done to protect clinicians. Adequate staffing is a must, as is a less punitive work environment. Empowering clinicians with education related to dealing with traumatic events and giving them time and space to process their emotions would be a benefit to all.

©Daryl Wofford/Image courtesy of Daryl Wofford

Physician Burnout and Sadness: Powerful Expressions

Keith L. Martin | September 12, 2019 | Contributor Information

The Scribe

Daryl Wofford (brother of a physician):

The image depicts the tenderness and time spent between patient and physician, all made possible by the scribe. These re-connections between doctors and patients by scribes can facilitate professional satisfaction and reduce burnout.

©Nicole Hawkins/Image courtesy of Nicole Hawkins

Physician Burnout and Sadness: Powerful Expressions

Keith L. Martin | September 12, 2019 | Contributor Information

Self-Preservation

Medical student Nicole Hawkins:

Medicine is an intense field that can be all-consuming at times. All-consuming of your mental, physical, and emotional energy; all-consuming of your spirit. It is because we so delicately interact with other human lives and deaths that medicine can have such a grip on us, sometimes making us unrecognizable from our former selves. This painting depicts the effort to preserve who you have always been and connect that with the person that medicine shapes you into.

©Ranee' Wright/Image courtesy of Ranee' Wright

Physician Burnout and Sadness: Powerful Expressions

Keith L. Martin | September 12, 2019 | Contributor Information

Only If You Believe

Nurse Ranee' Wright:

Working as a correctional nurse with an underserved population can be challenging. Reminding yourself to stay true to the fundamental tenets of nursing is important. I find that through my altered books I am able to continuously remind myself to not lose sight of the unique individuality that everyone possesses. This in return keeps me motivated to continue my pursuit with this population and to continue following my passions and dreams.

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Medscape National Physician Burnout, Depression & Suicide Report 2019

More than 15,000 physicians told Medscape how they feel about burnout, depression, and suicidal thoughts, and also how they attain happiness.Medscape Features Slideshows, January 2019
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