The Whirlwind of the Practice of Medicine - Seven Ways to Step Out

Posted by Dike Drummond MD

physician-burnout-medical-practice-whirlwind_opt150WAll doctors practice medicine from within the center of a powerful whirlwind

This is Blog Post #278
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Your practice is a mini-tornado of:

  • Repetitive actions with your patients and staff
  • Thousands of clicks and keystrokes in documentation
  • Competing demands for your attention from email/text/voicemail
  • And dozens of decisions, some of which actually involve life and death

And that's a slow day ... right?

It is a legitimate whirlwind - a Dorothy-on-the-Kansas-prairie twister that can tie you up in knots and even make you forget you forgot lunch ... sometimes. That same whirlwind is a core cause of physician burnout too.

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How is Your Whirlwind Feeling These Days?

You get to decide how satisfied you are with your practice. You can do that right now quite simply - even though you have been conditioned to NOT ask yourself questions like these:

1) On a scale of 0 - 10, how satisfied are you with your practice over the last two weeks or so? Go on, take a deep breath ... what's your number?

2) How satisfied are you with that satisfaction number ... how does that feel?

~~ My satisfaction level over the last two weeks is a 5.
~~ I sure wish it could be an 8.

NOW we have something to work with.

The relationship between you and your current whirlwind is a 5.
How do we change it?

Realize, the view from inside the whirlwind never changes. Within the swirling daily chaos ... all we see are the things that are going wrong. You can clearly see problems, inefficiencies and things that don't make sense. Often you don't have time to deal with them in the moment, because you are already behind schedule. Often all you can do is growl like a tiger/tigress and keep pushing to the end of your scheduled patients or shift.

There is Only One Way Upward ...
You Must Find a Way to Step Out of This Whirlwind


  • The swirl is Einstein's Insanity Trap
  • The only way out is to take new actions

But you can't see the new actions -- the things you could do differently -- from INSIDE the Whirlwind

You must step out and take a new perspective.

Now you are outside looking in. You can see patterns that were not visible from your position dead center. You can see options where there appeared to be none. You can see habits and automatic behaviors that make no sense from out here.

Stepping Out of the Whirlwind
at Regular Intervals
- to See New Options and Plan New Actions - 
Is the ONLY WAY OUT of Einstein's Insanity Trap
and a Key to Quality of Life for You and Your Family

Take it Further

Stepping out of the Whirlwind is essential to remember who you really are and to remind yourself of the things for which you are grateful. 

Inside the whirlwind you are in the role of physician. You are surrounded by problems and driven by programming. Only when you step out, can you and your family, remember who you really are when you take your doctor hat off.

This outside-the-Whirlwind position is also essential to remembering the things that are going right in your life.

One of the keys to a fulfilling life and practice is how often you step out of your own personal Whirlwind. There are simple structures for this process of "Whirlwind Extraction". 

step-out-of-einsteins-insanity-trap-medical-practice-whirlwind-stop-physician-burnoutSeven Ways to Step Out of Your Whirlwind 
(even if it's just a baby step)

One of the most powerful use of your time outside your whirlwind is to hone your Ideal Job Description and plan new actions to move in that direction.

The following methods are effective only when you actually take those new actions on your return to work. 

  • Boundary Ritual / Meditation
  • Journal - here you reflect on the whirlwind and make a gratitude list
  • Exercise - yoga, running, swimming, hiking/walking, dance and more
  • Hobbies - gardening, playing music, cooking, reading and many more
  • Day Off/Vacation/Conference/Retreat/Sabbatical
  • BID Team Huddles / Monthly Staff Meetings - here you are stepping out of the whirlwind as a team which is especially powerful
  • Spend time with Family/Friends and others outside of healthcare - remember to take your doctor hat off at these times, rather than just continue to worry about work in a new location.

Your Turn:

  • Pick one of the actions above - or any other activity that gets you out of your own private whirlwind
  • Breathe, take your doctor hat off, notice what it is like to NOT be a doctor
  • Notice all the things you are grateful for
  • Look back at the twister and see what you would like to change and pick a simply new action to take next time you are at work
  • Take a new action ... even if it is a classic baby step
  • See what happens
  • Tweak and Repeat
  • Think of ways to set up a regular whirlwind escape cadence ... a regular escape rhythm like a metronome of awareness keeping your practice on track

"A life unexamined is not worth living"

~ Socrates


How do you step out of your whirlwind?

How is that working for you?

Tags: stop physician burnout