Family Medicine Physicians Speak Out on Burnout and Resilience

3 Steps to Minimize Burnout

S. Hughes Melton, MD, MBA, FAAFP


September 06, 2017

Editorial Collaboration

Medscape &

Hello. My name is Hughes Melton, and I'm a family physician in Virginia. I've worked in Virginia for 18 years in a number of different practice environments: private practice in a rural area, in the military, and as an executive in a health system. Currently, I work with the Virginia Department of Health.

To the extent that you can, take the time to develop...supportive working relationships with nurses; front office; lab techs; and, of course, your fellow providers, as part of the antidote to burnout.

The issue of burnout in my fellow family physicians is significant. A lot of things affect burnout, many of which we do not have a lot of control over. We can advocate and work with the American Academy of Family Physicians to attempt to change such things as payment reform and issues with electronic medical records.

In each practice location where I worked, I found a number of things I could do to help to avoid burnout. I found that there are three categories of things I actually have some control over.

Taking Control #1: Make Time for Reflection/Mindfulness

The first is to make time for reflection, or mindfulness, as some people call it. I was talking recently with our student leaders about how we often live a very reactive life. We are very busy. The need around us is great and, sometimes, can consume so much of our time that we spend all of our time and energy and effort reacting to that need.

In order to live a mindful life and to make the changes in our life that we want to make, we have to find some time for reflection. Often, people find that time in the morning, before the craziness of the day begins. It's a quiet time, if you will. Other people find it when running. For me, it's a combination of exercise and some time in the morning reading different types of reflective passages. This is one thing that has worked for me.

Taking Control #2: Develop Supportive Relationships With Coworkers

The second area would be your team members at work. Depending on your practice environment, you have relative control over this, to the extent that you can work with these individuals and get to know them as people whom you care about and, together as a team, meet the need that comes into your clinic. By taking the time to get to know them, they can lift you up when you are down. This is probably the strongest factor that enabled me to avoid burnout when I was in rural southwest Virginia for 12 years. Most days, I came in with a joyful attitude, even if it was just to see my fellow coworkers.

To the extent that you can, take the time to develop those kinds of supportive working relationships with nurses; front office; lab techs; and, of course, your fellow providers, as part of the antidote to burnout.

Taking Control #3: Avoid Isolation

The third would be to not become isolated. Partly, that is getting to know your local team. However, you should also become aware of the broader world of family medicine. For me initially, that was involvement in my state medical society, the Medical Society of Virginia. Eventually, I also became involved with the American Academy of Family Physicians, where I now serve as the president for the American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation.

Getting involved in the larger body of family medicine helps you understand all the work that is being done to help address the issue of burnout and make being a family physician more fulfilling. You can also connect with kindred spirits outside of your local community. You can hear about ideas that you would never come up with on your own that can help you make positive changes in your own practice environment.


These are three practical things that family physicians can do to try and deal with the issue of burnout. First, find time for reflection to be a little more mindful about your plans over the next week, 2 weeks, or month. Second, get to know your fellow coworkers, and try and develop a culture around you of caring for one another. Third, plug into the larger body of family medicine.

You can take advantage of a lot of resources. Different people need different types of resources in order to deal with challenges they face on a daily basis. Once you become aware of them, you can take advantage of them.

I appreciate your taking the time to listen to me today, and I wish you the best in your journey toward a fulfilling career as a family physician. Thank you.


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