Doctors in America are facing burnout in high numbers. A 2012 national survey published in the Journal of American Medicine found almost 46 percent of doctors reported feeling symptoms of burnout. WebMD reported that same number in a report published this year.
Doctors who burn out can struggle to meet the needs of their patients and sometimes end up leaving the profession all together.
Tom Murphy knows all about burnout. Murphy is a rheumatologist, and comes from a family of doctors; his grandfather was a family practitioner in rural Illinois. His father was a doctor, along with two of his uncles.
He graduated from Northwestern Medical School in Chicago in 2000 and soon started practicing medicine. But 13 years later, he was burned out.
Murphy says he started feeling stress, agitation, lack of interest and loss of empathy. He realized he no longer felt joy when he was dealing with his patients. He says he sees a lot of other doctors going through the same thing.
“There’s a lot of early retirement going on in the profession. I have two very close personal friends, also in their 40s, who have left the profession as well recently,” says Murphy. “So this is an issue we’re seeing a lot more of.”
He says there are three main symptoms to burnout: emotional exhaustion, lack of meaning from work, and depersonalization. Murphy says that’s when patients aren’t people anymore, they’re like objects.
“Your patients are almost in a way, a burden. You’re not connecting in this profound, deep way that you did when you originally entered the profession.”
He says burnout is bad in any career, but especially so in medicine.
“What a sad transition because medicine is such a profound opportunity to interact with other people. But then when you start to become cynical and it’s just a job, it’s really a dramatic transition.”
Murphy retired from the practice of medicine when he was 43. He says he went through his own personal journey to find the tools that he needed to practice again. He started working with other doctors, helping them as they struggled through burnout. He spent part of his time away from medicine writing the book “Physician Burnout” which was published this year.
Now he’s working again as a doctor at Valor Health in Emmett.
“Now that I’ve started practicing again, it’s wonderful, it’s joyous,” Murphy says.
He says one of the biggest helps is having a supportive spouse or partner, which the doctor can talk to and go to for support.
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