Your Burnout Isn't Your Fault, but You Should 'Own' It

Jillian Horton, MD, FRCPC


January 15, 2020

What I've come to believe is this: If we think that the only solution to addressing physician burnout is fixing the system, we risk internalizing the idea that all solutions are entirely out of our control. In that moment, we give away the personal agency to control those things that we can. This isn't about letting organizations and institutions off the hook when it comes to doing their part to address the primary drivers of burnout. It is about embracing what we can do to help ourselves.

More than 3 years after making a serious effort to learn how to apply mindfulness to my clinical life, I have noticed a significant difference. I feel more fully present with patients and colleagues and more accepting of the complex range of emotions that appear for me during a normal clinical day. I treat myself and others with more compassion. I also now teach mindful practice to medical learners, faculty, and leadership across the country, as one of many strategies I have embraced.

The system must change, and we must also work to identify and practice meaningful wellness strategies like our lives depend on it. Because I believe that they do. So when someone offers you a muffin as a cure for your burnout, feel free to reject it. But don't reject the idea that there are things you can do to take control of your own wellness.

Jillian Horton, MD, FRCPC, is associate head of the Department of Internal Medicine , director of the Alan Klass Program in Health Humanities, and a former associate dean of undergraduate student affairs at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. She is a member of the Stanford University Chief Wellness Officer 2019 cohort and is trained in mindful practice through the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. Her memoir about medicine and medical education will be released by Harper Collins Canada in February 2021.

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