Physician Burnout - stop asking the wrong question

Posted by Dike Drummond MD

physician-burnout-is-not-a-problem-Opt-150W.jpgPhysician Burnout - Stop Asking the Wrong Question

In this post you will learn a fundamental mistake all doctors (and physician leaders) make about burnout -- and how changing the questions you ask will make all the difference.

[HINT: Physician burnout is not a problem. When you stop looking for a solution you will see the simplicity of a burnout prevention plan that really works - for you, for your family and for your organization]

I am often asked,
"What is the SOLUTION to Physician Burnout?"

On the surface it would seem a natural question for any doctor or physician leader to ask ... right? It would be swell if there was a solution to this issue -- the one thing you can do one time -- to make physician burnout go away.

Unfortunately, that question contains an hidden assumption that messes everyone up right from the start. 


CLICK HERE to Download the Disruptive Physician's Toolkit [ 10 Specific Ways to  Avoid the "Disruptive" Label ]


Asking for a Solution assumes physician burnout is a Problem

That assumption is where doctors and physician leaders set themselves up for struggle. Here is the truth:

  • Physician burnout is fundamentally NOT A PROBLEM
  • There is NO SOLUTION
  •  Asking that question will only lead you down a rabbit hole of dead ends and frustration
You can prevent and treat burnout, however you will need a different question altogether.

Eskimos have 26 words for snow -- why do we insist on calling everything a PROBLEM

Calling burnout a "problem" is actually a labeling error in the English language. If you believe physician burnout is a PROBLEM and you are looking for a SOLUTION -- you are actually blind to the true nature of burnout. This critical error will send you on a wild goose chase of frustration and struggle.

- You try one thing -- like a vacation or sabbatical -- and it only helps temporarily.
- You try another -- like meditation or journaling -- and it helps somewhat but is certainly not the solution you are wishing for. 
- Your "why can't I find a solution" frustration may lead you to the quicksand of self-doubt and you may even start to wonder "maybe there is something wrong with ME?!" 

You can absolutely prevent and treat burnout. However, you will struggle until you adjust your thinking to match the nature of the beast that is physician burnout.


CLICK HERE to Download the Disruptive Physician's Toolkit [ 10 Specific Ways to  Avoid the "Disruptive" Label ]


stop-physician-burnout-ask-the-right-question.jpgWhen you ask, "What is the SOLUTION?" 

... you are asking the wrong question

Stop looking for a solution, cure, best practice, magic elixir, that one-thing-you-can-do-one-time-to-make-it-go-away.

You will never find the solution to physician burnout for one simple reason.

Physician burnout is Not A Problem

The True Nature of Physician Burnout

The use of the word "problem" is a very common labeling error in the English language. When a native English speaker sets a personal or professional goal -- and then runs into a barrier to reaching that goal -- we call that barrier "a problem". Very often we use this word incorrectly.

The word problem actually has a very specific definition.

  • Problems have solutions - this is the nature of a problem.
  • When you apply a solution to a problem, what happens to the problem?
  • Right. It goes away.

So a PROBLEM is something you can make disappear in a single step with a single action.

If you are facing a challenge that CANNOT BE SOLVED IN A SINGLE STEP -- then that challenge is NOT A PROBLEM.

A challenge you can't solve is not just an especially difficult problem -- it is a Completely Different Animal. 


CLICK HERE to Download the Disruptive Physician's Toolkit [ 10 Specific Ways to  Avoid the "Disruptive" Label ]


Physician Burnout is a DILEMMA

physician-burnout-work-life-balance-dilemma-Opt-300W.jpgDilemma = a Perpetual Balancing Act

In the case of burnout, the balancing act is all about preserving your life force -- maintaining a positive level in your energetic bank accounts.

Think of a teeter totter like you would see on a children's playground.

On one side is the energy you put into your practice and your life -- on the other side is your ability to recharge your energy. Ideally you can keep this teeter totter in balance and maintain a positive energy level. When a stressful day or week drains your energy reserves, you must have ways to restore that energy and refill your energy levels. Noticing when you are drained and having ways to refill your energy reserves and maintain a positive balance is the key to preventing physician burnout.

Notice that this teeter totter does not stay balanced all by itself. To keep it level you must make constant small adjustments on both sides of the balance point. There is no single action you can take one time that freezes the beam at horizontal. There is no SOLUTION you can apply that will eliminate your need to actively maintain this balance. The same is true for maintaining your energy balance and preventing burnout.

- This is a Dilemma - a perpetual balancing act
- there is no one step Solution
- You maintain your energy levels over time with a different "S" word 




Not a one-step solution, a fix or a cure. Instead, a strategy is a coordinated series of actions, applied regularly to maintain the energy balance you seek.

- The best strategies are just 3 - 5 steps.

- And, because the risk of burnout never goes away, these 3 - 5 steps must become HABITS. 


  • Challenges you cannot solve in one step are Dilemmas - never ending balancing acts -- Physician Burnout is a prime example of a Dilemma. 
  • When facing a Dilemma - you must create a Strategy to maintain the balance you seek. Just 3 - 5 steps.
  • The steps of your Strategy must become Habits because the Dilemma of Burnout never goes away. You are ALWAYS AT RISK.

If you want to address physician burnout, you MUST Focus On Building Your Personal Prevention Strategy.

Here is the RIGHT QUESTION to be asking yourself:
"What is my STRATEGY to Prevent Physician Burnout?"

What are the 3 - 5 steps I can take every day, every week, every month to maintain the balance that prevents me from entering the downward spiral of burnout?

We teach 117 proven ways to prevent physician burnout.

- If you believe you are looking for a single solution, that would be very confusing.
- However, if you understand you are looking for 3 - 5 strategy components to match your situation ... this smorgasbord of options should be of great comfort.

Strategy Components our Clients Highly Recommend

With our experience coaching several hundred physicians to successfully reverse their burnout -- we can give you some solid recommendations on tools for your burnout prevention strategy.

Every single one of our clients tells us these two tools are part of their burnout prevention strategy:

    1. The Schedule HACK - learn more at this link
    2. The Boundary Ritual - learn more at this link
    3. And you can find all 117 tools inside the MATRIX Report here


Physician Leaders and the PROBLEM Error:

If you are a physician leader, you will never see an authentic problem in the administrative role of your job. Simple things like problems get solved on the way to your desk.

Take a moment now to notice the "problems" you have been unable to solve in your leadership role. Now ask yourself are these challenges even problems in the first place? You will find you have been looking for a solution when the issue you are addressing is not a problem in the first place.

INSTEAD: Ask questions to focus your people on forming a 3 - 5 step strategy and a metric to measure your balance point. You will find things get a lot easier.

Here is our four-part Burnout Prevention Strategy for Organizations


Please Leave a Comment:

How does moving from Solution to Strategy help you address burnout and maintain balance?

Tags: Physician Burnout