Stop Physician Burnout - Two Little Voice Danger Signs

Posted by Dike Drummond MD

physician-burnout-inner-voice-danger-signs-stress-get-help-dike-drummond-OPT150WTwo danger signs of physician burnout from that Little Voice inside your  head.

You know that voice. In cartoons it is often depicted as an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. When you tune in to that inner voice, it is easy to notice it talks pretty much all the time. 

Mostly random thoughts, feelings, worry, memories.

Sometimes though, it gives you a message that has meaning here and now. In our coaching practice, we have noticed two specific inner voice phrases that are nearly universal in physicians as the tip over the edge and into burnout.

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These two phrases are clear warnings of overload and potential burnout. Ignore them at your peril.

Know too that your medical school/resident/fellowship training experiences taught you to ignore this inner voice. In training, it didn't matter what you felt or what your energy level was on any given day. You had to show up.

The core task of training is SURVIVAL. If you make it to the end you get a very large prize and failure is not an option ... right?

So you may have heard these exact words echoing in your head before and simply put your head down and gutted out another day, another week, another rotation, another weekend on call in the past.


"I'm not sure how much longer I can keep going like this."

This one is often spoken out loud with a downward gaze, a slow shake of the head and your hand on your brow.


"Maybe if I'm lucky, I will get hit by a car on the way to work today and won't have to see patients."

This one usually draws a chuckle from your colleagues if you happen to say it out loud. It is often confused with a joke. This is not a joke. Phrase two here is much more serious than phrase one. It is a flashing red light and an air raid siren warning to make some changes now. 

The healthiest action to take in regards either phrase is: 


STOP what you are doing.
Take a LOOK around. How are things going ... really?
LISTEN to this voice, it is trying to help and protect you.
Take a good look in the mirror.
- How are you doing physically?
- How are you doing emotionally?
- Is this the way you want your practice and  your life to feel?
KNOW you always have the power to change your practice and stress levels. 

KNOW that positive change is possible whether or not you know what to do right now. I am talking about positive change ... not just positive thinking.

REACH OUT to your spouse/partner/significant other or a friend or colleague and let them know what is going on.
Ask for support.
You will need to step past your programming. It won't feel good or be an easy thing to do. Do it anyway.

Consider taking a break to fill your energy accounts.

Consider tweaking your practice. 
The Ideal Practice process starts on page 70 in the book

Consider getting professional support.
Our certified physician burnout/practice optimization coaches are here and your Discovery Session is no cost or obligation.
Discovery and Coaching FAQ's are here


If your little voice is saying way more than this, and you are concerned about harming yourself, please dial the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline NOW:


If you hear a colleague or a member of your staff say either of these out loud:

Grab them, hold them, ask them how they are doing.

They will say "fine" - that is just their programming.
Here is a mini training on how to reach out to a colleague in distress.

Help them pay attention to this warning sign of distress.

Grab a cup of coffee and hear them out. Encourage them to get support. Follow up and keep showing you care. 



What does your Little Voice say to you when you are really tired and drained?

What actions do you take when you hear it give you this warning?



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