Has Stress Burned You Out?

Greg A. Hood, MD

Disclosures

September 28, 2016

In This Article

"Good" Stress or "Bad" Stress?

Midway on our life's journey, I found myself
In dark woods, the right road lost.—
Dante

In every era, some percentage of physicians, being human, has complained about the profession, the practice of medicine, and the world in general. Arguably, however, this current era is unlike any other. Is this the "end of times" for the profession or for you, yourself, in your role as a physician?

Conscientious physicians are constantly stressed about work. They always have been and always will be stressed about their patients. Like the Jimmy Buffett song "It's My Job" says:

It's my job to [be] worried half to death
And that's the thing people respect in me
It's a job but without it I'd be less
Than what I expect from me.

Today's physician stress is a different stress. To get a sense of what I mean, consider the classic Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, which ranks positive as well as negative life events based on the degree of stress, not just the polarity of the stress. For example, getting married is rated as much more stressful than changing to a different line of work or a business readjustment.

Physicians are sometimes as invested in the outcomes and well-being of their patients as if they were married, though this dynamic is often not requited (and certainly not consummated). No question—physicians today have undergone unprecedented business readjustments. Even if they haven't been purchased, practice realignments towards the alphabet soup of merging and evolving quality programs has been challenging. Such programs have been discussed in detail in a number of Medscape articles.

All of these changes can leave physicians feeling quite disenfranchised. Generations of doctors who entered medical school with no thought of ever being "owned" and those who have only ever wanted to "just take care of patients"—and not be bothered by business or financial metrics—are left with this unexplainable sense of just not fitting in.

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