The fall conference is just around the corner, and this time, it’s entirely virtual. Although the format is new, the opportunity is unchanged. The leading medical obesity conference still promises to share tools to help you expand your patient population and effectively treat obesity in patients of all ages, genders, and socioeconomic groups. This year’s theme of Treating Obesity Across the Lifespan ensures that you’ll be equipped with practical strategies to solve any case you encounter in practice.
In the run-up to the event, we’re taking the time to introduce some of our speakers and share a bit about their sessions and the insights they aim to share. This time, the OMA welcomes Dike Drummond, MD. Dr. Drummond is a keynote speaker at the Fall Obesity Summit 2020 and the leading coach, trainer, and consultant on preventing clinician burnout. After 10 years working as a family doctor, burnout forced Dr. Drummond to leave his practice behind. An experience that has prompted him to shift his focus to addressing the modern burnout epidemic among healthcare providers. As the CEO and Founder of TheHappyMD.com, he supports thousands of providers from all over the world with his work against burnout.
In his session, Navigating the Whirlwind: Burnout, COVID-19 and Your Personal Path Forward, Dr. Drummond will explore the pervasive impact of burnout among medical providers and discuss how to recognize, prevent, and treat burnout on a personal and practice-level.
With that in mind, we asked him some questions about burnout, particularly in the present moment.
Obesity Medicine Association (OMA): What are some of the warning signs that you’re experiencing burnout as a healthcare provider?
Dr. Drummond: The three core symptoms of burnout come from the industry standard test for physician burnout, the Maslach Burnout Inventory named for industrial psychologist Christina Maslach.
- Physical and emotional exhaustion. The little voice in your head might say, “I’m not sure how much longer I can go on like this.” Family members closest to you will notice this and be concerned. You may be short tempered, tearful and notice your performance is not its best. You may recognize that little voice of exhaustion because every parent has said the same thing at one time or another.
- Cynical and sarcastic. Most noticeable if you are suffering from Compassion Fatigue especially towards difficult patients.
- Doubting the meaning of your work. Christina Maslach called this “lack of efficacy.” Your little voice might say something like, “What’s the use.” When you are deep in burnout you dread going to work and the little voice might say something like this — and this is a huge red flag — “Maybe if I am lucky, I will get hit by a car on the way to work today and I won’t have to see patients.”
OMA: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted burnout in healthcare providers?
Dr. Drummond: COVID-19 has made everything worse. It has overwhelmed and traumatized many doctors and staff — those dealing directly with sick patients. We know from previous experience with epidemics there will be a long tail of psychiatric complications among these workers for years to come. Things like depression, alchohol, drugs, and suicide.
Doctors themselves have become ill and some have died. Dr. Lorna Breen is the most widely known physician casualty of the pandemic. Some families have split up to live in different houses/apartments so that the doctor can avoid bringing the infection home to the family members. Even despite these precautions some family members have become infected and died.
And this overwhelmed group are only one-third of the physicians and staff in our healthcare system. The other two-thirds saw a dramatic slowdown in their practices while their colleagues were overwhelmed in the ICU and Emergency Department. Many practices ground to almost a complete halt between March and July and are still not back at full volume. The healthcare industry has suffered massive losses in the second quarter of 2020 with income down 40 – 60%. There have been pay cuts, layoffs and more.
And the pandemic combined with social unrest and the elections means it is much more difficult to recharge and recuperate from the normal energy drain of a normal medical practice. You certainly can’t turn on the TV and just kick back, even sports are not the same.
OMA: Why is it important to address burnout? What’s the harm of “powering-through”?
Dr. Drummond: Physician burnout kills doctors and kills patients.
Burnout is connected to depression, drug addiction, alcoholism, and suicide in physicians. Even in non-pandemic times physician suicide rates are twice those of non-physicians.
Physician burnout is linked to lower care quality and safety, lower patient satisfaction, and higher medical error and malpractice rates. When your energy reserves are consistently below normal, there is no such thing as powering through.
OMA: Are there specific actions that can be taken to address burnout on the personal level and the practice level?
Dr. Drummond: There are hundreds of specific actions doctors and organizations can take to lower the stress on the patients and staff and prevent burnout. Our MATRIX Report White Paper contains 235 stress lowering tools.
That may seem confusing if you think burnout is “a problem.” You may ask yourself, which one of those is “the solution” to burnout? If you use problem/solution language you are falling into two of the three big myths about burnout. Burnout is not a problem. There is no solution. Burnout does not meet the definition criteria for the word problem. “Problem” comes from mathematics. By definition, problems have solutions. When you apply a solution to a problem, what should happen to the problem?
It should go away, right?
2 + 2 equals 4, and I am done with that problem. Give me another to solve.
So, when you ask the question: What is the solution to burnout? You will find you don’t have a good answer. That is because burnout is not a problem. Burnout is a classic dilemma. A never ending balancing act. You don’t address a dilemma with a solution. You use a different “S” word. That word is strategy.
A strategy differs from a solution in a simple way. A successful strategy has more than one step. Ideally there are not too many steps. Most successful burnout prevention strategies have three-to-five steps.
Whenever we are working with physicians and staff employed by a hospital or medical group, there is a classic situation of the canary in the coal mine.
To be effective, our strategy must dictate that two things must happen at the same time. Every canary needs their own personal canary strategy to prevent their personal burnout. Every coal mine needs a coal mine strategy to lower the stress in the mine.
You must have both at once for the simple reason, we can always design a mine that can burn out even the strongest canary.