Burnout among physicians, including pathologists, is a growing concern. It is a condition that can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion, a feeling of depersonalization and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment. Experiencing burnout not only takes a toll on one’s mental and emotional well-being but can also have a significant impact on patient care and safety. For the next four blog posts, I am going to explore the subject of burnout.
As I sat down to write the first post of a 4-part series on burnout, memories of one of my previous positions as the medical director of a large tertiary medical center came flooding back. I want to share my experience and how it contributed to my experience of feeling burnout.
Like many of us, I was full of hope and excitement when I first started my new position as the medical director. It was a new challenge, and I was eager to prove my worth and create an impression of a high-performing director. I even took on the additional responsibility of overseeing the laboratory information system, despite it requiring overextension of my time and energy. I was putting my job before my well-being, such as giving up my time to exercise and engage in other hobbies, and justifying it by believing I could make up for it later.
During the following years, I continued to pour all my energy into demonstrating my value and worth. I neglected my workout routine and other energy-restoring activities, and eventually, burnout and disengagement set in. My stress and frustration increased, and I even became more irritable at home. To cope, I vented to colleagues about my frustrations and indulged in some unhealthy habits such as consuming junk food.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, which only intensified the stress and emotional difficulties we faced as healthcare professionals. We even had to deal with staff furloughs at the beginning of the pandemic. I felt guilty about not being furloughed and stressed about how to handle the increased workload when elective surgery resumed. Throughout the pandemic, we experienced significant and persistent staff shortage. Furthermore, we had to train new employees due to high turnover, which created additional challenges.
The final straw came when changes in senior management occurred, creating an organizational culture that focused on meeting key performance goals and offered harsh feedback when performances didn’t meet expectations. Mentally and physically drained, I realized I had no choice but to look for opportunities elsewhere and leave the organization.
Looking back, I realize I was in denial about my burnout experience and had been feeling disengaged for a long time. I thought maintaining a work-life balance would solve everything, but that balance was impossible to achieve when work was such an essential part of my life. Unfortunately, my experience is not unique, as pathologist burnout is prevalent in the United States.
In the next post, I’ll delve deeper into the data about pathologist burnout, and you’ll see that my experience is not an isolated case. Stay tuned!