Start early during training to help counter physician burnout

Focus on improvements in physician training and better work environments to counter burnout, says Lotte Dyrbye, associate director of the Department of Medicine Program on Physician Well-Being at the Mayo Clinic in an interview with NEJM Catalyst.

Professional burnout has been a troubling and widespread phenomenon that has been on the radar for both the Mayo Clinic and the healthcare industry generally for some time, as FiercePracticeManagement has previously reported. Dyrbye calls for greater support starting during training and residency because medical students experience a startlingly high rate of burnout. “We see more burnout in physicians and in trainees than we would expect, based on national norms of other U.S. working adults,” she says.

Even more worrisome, the students who get into medical school tend to demonstrate less burnout and depression than college graduates in other fields, which implicates the learning and work environment of a medical clinician is the problem. As a very simple first step to address the problem, she suggests deemphasizing grades by moving to a pass/fail curriculum for the first two years of learning, which not only keeps students focused on learning rather than grades, but also produces a stronger social network by fostering less competition among students.

Other important strategies include teaching medical students to practice wellness early on, and to provide easy access to care. Dyrbye points out that professional burnout differs from depression in some ways, so while a mental health provider might be effective in helping students fend off burnout, she says it’s important to remember that help can also come from primary care physicians, academic faculty and staff, or professional peers.

The amount of conversation and attention around the problem give Dyrbye hope that the tide is beginning to shift. “I think there still is an enormous amount of joy in medicine,” she says.

- here’s the interview