Physician Burnout - Why Working Harder Never Works

Posted by Dike Drummond MD

physician burnout working harder doesnt work optPhysician Burnout - Why working harder never works

In my coaching practice, working with hundreds of over stressed physicians, every single one is a supremely hard worker.

Our residency training values hard work above all else ... to the point of nearly working each of us to death at some point. If there is anything a physician knows how to do ... it is work hard.

It is our default reaction to any challenge. We put our nose to the grindstone and try to overwhelm it by the sheer volume of our effort.

Unfortunately when you come to the dead end of burnout, working harder never works.

Here is why ...

If you work harder doing more of what you are already doing - you will just get more of what you've already got

If I turn this observation around, you will recognize Einstein's definition of insanity:

physician burnout einsteins definition of insanity"Doing (more of) the same thing over and over and expecting a different result" 

The reality of physician burnout is very simple. If you keep doing more of what got you here, you will either

- Crash and burn
- Or become a cynical, disruptive, chronically burned out doctor 

The only way to get different results is to take different actions

Noticing your life and practice habits and consciously changing them is the only way back from the edge.

The way you respond when you recognize physician burnout is key.

- You can deny it, rage against it, point your finger at others and blame them for it ... and stay right where you are.
- Or you can use it to your advantage

The Highest and Best Use of Physician Burnout is to Show You a Better Path

- Physician burnout is only a symptom.
- It is a sign you are not on your optimal career and life path. 
- It is motivation to make the changes to build a more fullfilling practice and a richer life.

Don't take my word for it ... prove it to yourself.


Try this experiment:

Think of a physician you look up to. Someone you feel is an excellent doctor who has been able to build an enviable life. Someone who you consider a role model and a mentor. It could be one of your current practice partners or someone from your training.

Once you have one in mind, connect with them - ideally in person over a cup of coffee or tea - and ask them to tell you their burnout story.

The most common reply you will hear is, "Which one?"


In my experience - you don't get to be a happy, healthy, well adjusted physician with a  balanced and fulfilling life without passing through burnout at least once

physician burnout working harder fork in the road optThe lifetime incidence of physician burnout is 100%.

Physician Burnout is a fork in the road. It marks the critical points in your life where you can choose to make the changes to become a wise, well adjusted, happy, fulfilled human being AND a doctor. Or not.

How you respond when you recognize your own physician burnout will determine your quality of life and save you from a life of "quiet desperation".

Are you ready to get started on a better path?

If you find yourself thinking or feeling, "I am not sure how much longer I can go on like this ... here are several field tested and immediately effective resources to get you started on a better path. 


Three ways to create more life balance

Three ways to stop working so hard

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Tell us your burnout story and the difference it made in your life and practice.

Tags: Physician Burnout, Work Life Balance, prevent physician burnout, Physician Leadership