I have a colleague who is writing a self-help book on burnout. She would be very interested in talking to any doctors or nurses who have experienced burnout or traumatic stress. If you, or anyone you know would be happy to share your experience, please email Sarah Kuipers on firstname.lastname@example.org and she will contact you to arrange a mutually convenient time to call you.
‘The patient’s treatment begins with the doctor, so to speak. Only if the doctor knows how to cope with himself and his own problems will he be able to teach the patient to do the same.’ (C. G. Jung in Memories Dreams and Reflections)
Who do you turn to when you begin to wonder how you’ll get through the next few years? Do you believe seeking help and support will be seen as a sign of weakness? Do you make it impossible or very difficult for people to connect with you? Can you make connections? Do you feel vulnerable? Are you frightened about seeking assistance for yourself? Do you believe you have to cope on your own? Do you have to know all the answers? Do you hate to admit that you don’t know? Do you consider that others will think less of you if you admit ignorance?
Do you put obstacles between you and other people? Do you put up barriers to communication? Is it easy to enable a patient to tell you their most intimate thoughts and feelings but difficult for you to do the same to your Do you dread the phone ringing because you don’t want to speak to a patient? Are you going to wait until you are at crisis point? Who can support you now? Who can be there for you and accept who you are?
Is now is the moment to make changes to improve the quality of your life so that you can have time for family as well as patients, more time for your friends as well as your colleagues. You could have more time to enjoy being away from work doing things you haven’t done for years, such as going for a walk, a cycle ride, reading a book, painting, writing, any other almost forgotten hobby, whatever you’ve been saying to yourself ‘One day I’ll have time for such and such’ Now is the time to get more balance between your medical work and the rest of your life, the part of you that may have been submerged for years.
Don’t wait until you’re ‘burnt out’. Re-discover who you are. Start to make small changes right now. Be clear about what you have to do against what you ‘should ‘do. Do what you love to do. Teach others your skills so that you can delegate more to them to do some or all of the boring things you are doing now.
Do you think that you are indispensable and no-one else can do what you do? Suppose you are unable to do your work for some reason or another, what then? Someone else will take over. They may not do it the same way you do. They may not even do it as efficiently as you did. But they will do it their way and hopefully it will get done.
It’s OK to be ‘selfish.’ The word ‘selfish’ may have bad connotations. Start to look after yourself, physically and emotionally. Think about it meaning ‘self-care’ If you take more care of yourself and your own needs you will cope more effortlessly with the needs of your patients. Don’t wait until you have to find solace in drink or drugs. Don’t wait until you reach crisis point. Start now. Find someone who will encourage and support you unconditionally. Someone who won’t have any expectations of you but will encourage you to achieve whatever you want.
Who can you talk to about your frustrations and difficulties of overwork as a doctor in an environment of being undervalued and endless demands? Do you have a mentor who understands?
When you experience the power of support and encouragement rather than demands and intimidation you will be able to coach your patients to do whatever they need to do, rather than reaching for the prescription pad again to write up yet more tablets destined to be put in the back of the bathroom cabinet with the others. When someone listens to your concerns and acknowledges them as legitimate, you will become a better listener to your patients and hear more of their underlying issues and so be able to give them the help they need. You will be able to convey to them that they can make a difference to their own lives when they take responsibility for it.
Every small change you as an individual make will eventually help to change the system. Take courage, start to care for yourself , much more. What will you do differently today?
“We deceive ourselves when we fancy that only weakness needs support. Strength needs it far more.”
PS if you want to care for yourself treat yourself to a few days away in April 2014 at Connect and Change (but hurry only limited places remain!)