Tag Archives: Stress

Burnout

Physician burnout has received a lot of well-deserved attention lately. Characterized by emotional exhaustion and professional frustration, it has been tied to array of bad outcomes, from physician suicide to poor patient outcomes. Organizations are waking up to the need to measure its prevalence and ameliorate its impact.

There seem to be two broad schools of thought about the causes – and by extension, the fixes – of physician burnout.

The first is focused on the inner life of the physician. Yes, the demands of medical practice are high, but if doctors were a little more “zen” about things, then life would be better for them and the people around them, including their patients. There is now a substantial cottage industry peddling retreats, wellness classes, yoga and more to help physicians find inner peace in our tumultuous times.

The second school of thought focuses on the externalities of physician practice. Increasing demands for productivity, economic stress, loss of control over scheduling, and higher “hassle-factors” associated with EMRs and regulations have made medical practice harder and less rewarding. Burnout is just the natural reaction of sane, well-adjusted, intelligent people put into an insane environment.

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Stress and Health

There was a really interesting article in the business section of the New York Times recently entitled “The mental strain of making do with less.” In it, Sundhil Mullainathan shares some insights from his new book, “Scarcity: why having too little means so much.”

The basic premise is that each of us has only so much “mental bandwidth,” and that coping with psychological stress – in particular the stress associated with poverty – leaves the poor with less mental energy or capacity to deal with everyday life. It is a fascinating and profound proposition. As Mullainathan points out, looking at the world this way could turn a lot of stereotypes on their heads: what if “poor people make bad choices in life” is really a reflection of “being poor makes you less able to make good choices”?
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