Physician Burnout - Your Patients Can See the Elephant in the Room

Posted by Dike Drummond MD

physician-burnout-patients-can-see-elephant-in-the-roomNew Survey shows patients can see, feel and empathize with the obvious burnout in their caregivers.

You know the elephant in the room, right?

Something shameful, dark, inconsistent, embarrassing, even damaging -- something everyone knows is everywhere all the time and we all secretly agree never to point it out or talk about it.

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The first rule of burnout is to never talk about burnout (amongst ourselves).

What about the patients and their family members? They are not sworn to our code of silence.

All the same, when the Elephant in the Room is Physician Burnout - we REALLY don't want the patients or their family members to notice or speak of it either.

Is it possible to effectively hide stress, fatigue, overwhelm and burnout from our patients?

There is precious little information to answer that question in the literature. This new survey gives us a fascinating peak into the depth of patient perceptions. And common sense says your patients and family members are acutely dialed in to the quality of  your interaction ... even more than we are.

  • For us, they are the next in a line of problems to solve (while the documentation tasks pile up to be completed later).

  • For them, this is the center of their week, their health or the health of their loved ones, a precious 5 minutes with your expertise and empathy. If you are rushed, harried, exhausted, frustrated ... they will notice.


The Survey Says:

"What Happens When Clinician Burnout Enters the Patient Exam Room?"

A company named Wheel , a virtual care staffing and tech company, commissioned PureSpectrum to survey 2000 American adults in an attempt to answer the following questions:

1) Is clinician burnout so widespread that people are noticing if their doctor or nurse is exhausted or overwhelmed?
2) Do people still value working in healthcare?
3) Is our failure to support clinicians harming the health of our country?
4) Are patients contributing to clinician burnout?

Yes, the sample size is small AND this is a fascinating peek under the hood of patient perceptions about the mental state of their physicians and nurses.



70% - said they are alarmed about high levels of stress and exhaustion among clinicians

80% - said their doctor or nurse seemed burned out during a healthcare visit in the last year

1 in 4 – said they experienced a healthcare visit that felt rushed

1 in 3 – believe their quality of care may have been impacted by burnout

1 in 4 – personally know a clinician who would switch careers if they could

1 in 8 – said their doctor or nurse disclosed they were struggling with their own mental health

2 in 3 - said the general public’s resistance towards wearing masks and getting the vaccine has contributed to burnout.

40% - said they would not want their child to become a doctor or nurse

1 in 3 – do not believe medical school is worth the investment

Here is a link to the full survey results

physician-burnout-elephant-in-the-roomLooks like our Elephant is Showing - YIKES

I believe it is impossible to hide burnout if you are looking to stuff it, deny its existence and pretend there is nothing to see here.

What we can do is release moment-to-moment stress during the practice day while you work on your Ideal Practice Description to lower stress and burnout.

There are simple tools to become the Eye of the Storm in your practice day - calm, centered, focused no matter what is going on around you.

You can even use the same tools to become a calming and reassuring presence for your staff and patients.



    • What tools do you use to center yourself before the next patient visit?
    • What difference do you think this patient perspective makes to you and your care team going forward?
    • What is your next action step in the direction of your Ideal Practice?



Tags: stop physician burnout