The Three Circle VENN of Physician Burnout

Posted by Dike Drummond MD

When I talk to doctors and physician leaders about Physician Burnout, they always make the same mistake.

They ask simple questions and expect simple answers when none exist.

The most common question is:
"What is the cause of physician burnout?"

That question presumes physician burnout is a PROBLEM
that has a simple SOLUTION.

Neither one is true. 

In this blog post let me show you a model that will help you understand the causes of burnout. This diagram is true for any physician, from a solo practice to any employee doctor and all physician leaders.

Learn All About our 3-Layer Physician Support Ecosystem
Burnout Proof MD

My intention is to help you
stop looking for a solution where none exists and get going on building your own personal burnout prevention strategy.


Before we begin,
please know that all of these causes are malleable
with the right tools and support. 


The last 12 years of my professional life have been devoted to helping physicians and organizations recognize and prevent physician burnout. These observations come from my personal experience of coaching hundreds of physicians to recover from burnout (3000+ hours of one-on-one coaching) and working with 175 organizations to train over 40,000 in these tools and concepts.


The Three Circle VENN of Physician Burnout

Here is a 3 Circle VENN Diagram that can help individual doctors and physician leaders understand the forces causing burnout in their practices and organizations. Take a quick look and then let's check out each factor one at a time.

This applies only to physicians in practice - burnout in Medical Education is an entirely different subject with different causes and prevention techniques.

Physician Burnout 3 Circle VENN Diagram


Your Current Job Description

This is especially true if the little voice in the back of your head tells you, "I still love my patients, but I can't stand this job." If you are wondering how things got this bad, you need look no further than your current Job Description and the forces that shaped it.

Two quick questions will show you how severely the playing field is tilted against you.

1) Did you personally play any role in designing your current Job Description?
was this FTE description handed to you off the rack and you just signed it (like a good resident would)?

2) What objectives was your job description designed to achieve? Who wrote it and why?

Was it created to match the major points of your personal Ideal Practice Description?
Was it written by your employer to reach their business objectives of income and patient volume?

If your contract and your FTE description matches these two points above, that Quid Pro Quo is not a fair trade for your years of medical education. You will find it draining, humiliating, frustrating and uncomfortable.



The Conditioning of Your Medical Education

The psychographic description of a typical physician is distinctive. We stand out from the bell shaped curve early because our baseline tendencies produce superior performance in school. Note that I am describing people who will become doctors here. These are our natural instincts as a group. 

Compared to the "normal" population we share more of the following traits: 

  • Workaholic
  • Super Hero
  • Lone Ranger
  • Perfectionist

Remember that medical education is a 7 - 16 year gauntlet and a true conditioning exercise, many times more intense and powerful than military boot camp.  All of these tendencies are driven deep and wide into our psyche.

MedEd also adds in the two prime directives of healthcare

#1 - Conscious
"The Patient Comes First"

#2 - Subconscious
"Never Show Weakness"

As a whole, this conditioning drives superior performance on good days and provides high-octane fuel for burnout on all other days.

These thought processes cause physicians to:

  • Ignore their own stress levels, struggle and burnout
  • Actively avoid taking a break or asking for help or time off when overwhelmed 
  • Find any urge to take care of their own needs surrounded by walls of guilt and shame and "what if they find out"
  • In extreme cases, the doctor can end up logically concluding that suicide is preferable to admitting the truth of burnout



The Daily Whirlwind

The work day of a typical physician is very much like stepping into your own little whirlwind. I imagine it looking a lot like Pig Pen's dirt cloud that follows him everywhere. All tasks, all decisions, all responsibility whirl around you, threatening to overwhelm all your coping mechanisms in any given moment of any given day. 

Medicine was difficult before EMR. Physician Burnout rates were 1 in 3 on any give practice day even back in the 70's, 80's and 90's.

EMR doubled the workload. All employers implemented EMR and did not upstaff to address the increase in clicks and keystrokes and quality indicators and InBox work. It is a classic "thousand paper cuts" in every doctor's practice every day. 

The great resignation of support staff caused by the pandemic made everything worse. 

There is just too much work and not nearly enough hands on deck.
And the doctors are programmed to do whatever it takes to get everything done, even if that means hours of charts after the kids are in bed. 


All 3 of these forces are Malleable
AND it takes a coordinated STRATEGY to combat this Perfect Storm

For the last 12 years and in our work with hundreds of burned out and overstressed physicians, we have tested and proven dozens of tools to get you back on track for a more satisfying, fulfilling career and a more balanced life. You can ...

Find the Wiggle Room in Your Job Description and negotiate for a More Ideal Practice
Recognize and Release Your Programming to create healthy balance and boundaries
Slow the Whirlwind with tools to get home sooner and lead your teams more effectively 

You can access these proven tools and support in any of three formats:

Our Live Retreats
Learn more about our retreats for individual doctors and if you want to be an effective physician wellness champion in your organization.

Our New Burnout Proof MD Physician Support Ecosystem
Three layers of support and an online tribe of like-minded doctors who have your back.

One-on-One Coaching with a Certified Physician Burnout Coach
All of our coaches are physicians and certified executive coaches with years of experience helping doctors create a healthy relationship with your career.





Which of the three circles is the most stress for you and your family at this time?



Tags: stop physician burnout