Is skill diversification one way to improve stress and burnout?

Posted on September 15, 2016 by Michelle Mudge-Riley, DO, MHA, RDN

Updated June 18, 2020

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This week I read yet another article about high levels of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization in doctors. The study reported all the doctors were at various stages of their careers. They came from various backgrounds and were a mix of U.S. and International graduates. Responses were gathered to questions relating to work life balance and quality of life.

It’s just the next in a long line of regularly reported studies and articles detailing burnout in both seasoned medical professionals and those in training.

What are the reasons for burnout in doctors and advanced practitioners? Although studies and reports describe the increase in administrative tasks, lack of control over time and the increase in patient chronic conditions, the reasons can vary, depending on the individual and his or her specific situation.

Is it possible to have some sort of work/life balance as a doctor or advanced practitioner?

Always-ready-to-help-000044254552_CroppedThis may seem to be a fantasy in part because of the culture of medicine but also in part because we don’t have any training or good examples on how to create some sort of work life balance for ourselves.

Diversifying your skill set as a seasoned medical professional (and even as a resident) may go a long way in helping to mitigate or reduce feelings of stress and burnout. In fact, some studies report quality of life and satisfaction with work/life balance is highest among medical professionals who have interests outside of medicine.

In addition to giving you an outlet, diversifying yourself in some way can help you remember there is more to life than just the hospital, clinic or being a doctor/ advanced practitioner. It’s hard to know and understand how much is out there when we are funneled through school and training and then live the day-to-day life as a doctor/advanced practitioner.

By diversifying yourself, I don’t mean having a family or running a marathon. Those are good ways to help round out your life but they don’t ignite your passion for serving others. They don’t give you that internal sense of accomplishment that comes from using your skills to achieve an outcome. Some examples of diversifying yourself include learning more about the business side of medicine, taking a course in real estate sales, going to a non-clinical conference in health IT or doing some medical writing for a medical communications company.

With the associated negative effects on patient care, decreased patient satisfaction and potential medication errors, I’m surprised there aren’t more groups and people out there making efforts to help doctors and providers find ways to mitigate the stress and burnout. With a projected future shortage of doctors it’s crucial to help them.

Fourteen years ago, I didn’t have any sense of work life balance and I didn’t know how to create it for myself. I was afraid it didn’t exist. Many of the doctors I looked up to and even some of my peers were negative about it or muttered snide remarks whenever I would broach the subject. Now that I have a business degree and experience in the non-clinical world, I wish I had known then what I know now. It’s possible and it’s even preferable for doctors and providers to have outside interests and make time for those interests. Those who do will be the happy – and by extension, successful – medical professionals who are needed for the future of healthcare. That’s part of the reason I work to help medical professionals who feel trapped, burned out or just wonder if “this is all there is.”

What would it feel like to be free? Diversify yourself. Don’t give up.

We Can Help

Diversifying your career as a medical professional is possible and can have positive effects in so many areas of your life. We’re here to help clinicians create and maintain satisfying medical careers. VITAL WorkLife can help you with developing a skill set complementary to your medical skills, exploring healthy patterns of communications or if you are facing a life-challenge of any type. Peer Coaching is a great resource to help you explore areas for growth and diversification. Contact VITAL WorkLife at 877.731.3949 or through the VITAL WorkLife App to get started today.

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For more information about VITAL WorkLife and our comprehensive suite of well being solutions, contact us online or at 800.383.1908.

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