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Why do Doctors get ill? Physcian Burnout is an issue

Posted by Jason Maude on Wed, Apr 27, 2016 @ 11:30 AM

stress-burnout.pngWho feels like they’ve been stressed by their work? Chances are, at some point in your life your job has taken over and you’ve felt like you need a holiday. But how many times have you considered yourself ill from stress? In recent years, mental health has been gaining more and more attention, and so it should; the statistics would make anyone panic if they were applied to a physical illness or disease. An alarming 9% of people in the UK suffer from anxiety and/or depression alone, and 1 in 4 of us worldwide will suffer from a mental illness in any given year. That’s the same amount of young adults contracting an STD, the same amount of deaths from heart disease, and more than the amount of women diagnosed with breast cancer in the US.

Stress is one of the leading causes of mental health issues, and this is never more prevalent than in the healthcare environment itself. Physician burnout is a medical phenomenon we are still trying to understand, and it can be life threatening. In the same way we try to discuss symptoms for other diseases on our blog, in this blogpost we will highlight the signs, symptoms and causes of stress and burnout in medical professionals, so you can seek help when it’s needed.

What is Physician Burnout?

Stress itself is not considered an illness, but it is the cause of many diseases, physical and mental. Most, if not all, doctors experience high stress environments while at work. Combine this with a lack of approval for the work being done and an inability to cope with the stress, and the accumulative effect of these symptoms leads to a much bigger problem. The symptoms for physician burnout are split into four categories; physical, emotional, cognitive and behavioural.

Physical symptoms

  • Headaches, often chronic
  • Joint and Muscle aches
  • Tiredness and lethargy
  • Insomnia and other sleep disorders
  • Weight loss or gain.

Emotional symptoms

  • Irritability or bitterness
  • Loss of humour or enjoyment in work or personal life
  • Feelings of failure, blame and guilt.
  • Depressed mood, or an apathy for work or social engagements.


  • Poor concentration
  • Suspicion and paranoia
  • Distancing.


  • Work avoidance
  • Diminished personal conduct with clients
  • Loss of empathy
  • Inflexible behaviour.

What are the causes for Physician Burnout?

As an illness that is only recently thought of as even existing, there is still a lot of research to be done in determining the causes of physician burnout, and this may take some quite long term studies and a lot of work from leaders in psychology. At the moment, the main cause is thought to be the direct stress experienced in a hospital or surgery environment. Constantly coming into contact with illness, life changing or threatening diseases and even death can breed stress, which is elevated when faced with the responsibility diagnosing and treating those diseases. Another school of thought explores the way we train and educate our doctors. Becoming a doctor involves one of the longest training periods, and the transition straight from high school, to college, to med school can create a ‘bubble-like’ environment, which some say is like an extension of school and focuses too much on the academics, science, and assessments. We of course neeed assessments to ensure our doctors are sufficiently trained to care for the ill, but when thrown into residencies, the reality of social interaction and the responsibility of real people can be a shock to the system. Many are calling for more training in the patient-doctor interaction during med school. Another way in which the burnout epidemic could be treated from the ground up throughout med school involves therapy classes on dealing with the specific stresses endured by doctors. More research certainly needs to be done, and actions can then be put in place to help prevent our worlds’ physicians from experiencing this solvable mental health issue.

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