Physician Burnout – Common Symptoms

Posted by Dike Drummond MD

physician burnout and stress 150x150Physician Burnout Symptoms

When it comes to physician burnout, the odds are stacked against us. We do whatever it takes to survive medical school and residency, but survival skills don't provide a decent quality of life. They only allow us to squeak by. Burnout symptoms are not obvious to the burnout sufferer, so let's talk about the symptoms of burnout for just a second.

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The three diagnostic symptoms of Physician Burnout were originally identified by Christina Maslach and her team back in the 1970's. They are

1) Exhaustion:
Physician and emotional exhaustion to the point where a little voice in your head might say something like, "I'm not sure how much longer I can keep going like this."

2) Cynicism, Sarcasm, Compassion Fatigue:
You are frustrated, bothered and snarky about patients and their families. You may even find you need to "vent" just to keep going.

3) You begin to doubt that you are making a difference
Dr. Maslach called this "lack of efficacy". You may notice the little voice in your head saying things like, "what's the use". Or it might say "I am concerned that if things don't change, I am going to make a mistake and someone is going to get hurt."

These symptoms are diagnostic of physician burnout and they are not the only symptoms of the downward spiral of burnout a physician will notice. Remember that the conditioning of your medical education sets you up to ignore your physical and emotional needs and puts you at a dramatically elevated risk for burnout in the first place.

There are also gender differences in burnout symptoms we have previously documented.


In this article, let me show you a master list of symptoms burnout can cause.

Physician Burnout is often a gradual process that occurs over an extended period of time. It can creep up on physicians because we have been trained to ignore burnout's symptoms and put the patient first in all circumstances.  The signs and symptoms of burnout are subtle at first and, if unrecognized, they tend to worsen over time.

Think of the early symptoms of physician burnout as warning signs or red flags that something is wrong that needs to be addressed. If you pay attention to these early warning signs, you can prevent a major breakdown. If you ignore them, and continue to try and “soldier on” a full scale breakdown and even a major depression can result.

Physical signs and symptoms of physician burnout

  • Feeling tired and drained most of the time
  • Tiredness that does not respond to adequate rest
  • Lowered immunity, feeling sick a lot
  • Frequent headaches, back pain, muscle aches
  • Change in appetite or sleep habits
  • Drop in libido or impotence

Emotional signs and symptoms of physician burnout

  • Sense of failure and self-doubt
  • Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated
  • Detachment, feeling alone in the world
  • Loss of motivation
  • Increasingly cynical and negative outlook
  • Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment
  • Activities you used to enjoy are no fun any more

Behavioral signs and symptoms of physician burnout

  • Withdrawing from responsibilities
  • Isolating yourself from others
  • Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done
  • Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope
  • Cynicism and a negative attitude towards your patients and co-workers
  • Taking out your frustrations on others
  • Driving aggressively, road rage
  • Snapping at your spouse, children, staff or co-workers inappropriately
  • Skipping work or coming in late and leaving early

When you notice these burnout symptoms … it’s time to pull up, take a breath, decommit, take a break, chill out and realize that is burnout knocking on your door. Deal with it now … to avoid the downward spiral.

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Do you need support right away?
Book a FREE Discovery Session with one of our Physician Coaches
Learn More At This Link
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Tags: Physician burnout, physician coach, physician stress, depression


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