Handling doctor burnout

By JAMA - Journal of the American Medical Association

Burnout is common among physicians and is often linked to poorer quality care for patients. A continuing medical education course involving meditation and communication exercises could help doctors stay on top of things.

Dr. Michael Schneider has been practicing medicine and it's draining pace for 30 years now.  "It's something lost when we have phones ringing, consultants calling, computer screens flashing," he says.

With up to 60% of physicians reporting symptoms of burnout, Dr. Michael Krasner of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, theorized that symptoms of emotional exhaustion, low sense of accomplishment and trouble connecting with patients might be helped by a course on "mindfulness" - or the ability to pay attention on purpose.  "Stressors sometimes become so overwhelming that we fail to see the good work that we're doing," says Dr. Krasner.

70 primary care physicians in New York took the year-long course aimed at improving mindful communication through meditation, exercises based on clinical experiences, group discussions and themed presentations. The research found participants saw both short and long term improvement in well- being.  Dr. Krasner says, "Burnout, physician empathy, physician psycho-social orientation toward patient, mood disturbance and some personality features improved significantly."

Dr. Schneider feels that his participation has provided him with skills to better handle whatever the day brings. "During the day, when you find yourself under stress to be able to step back and really just improve your mood," he says, "which clearly improves efficiency and performance through the day."

A positive finding for doctors and patients alike. Longer term follow-up on this group of doctors could provide insight on the effects of "mindful communication" on other facets of physician burnout including quality of life, medical errors and attrition from practice.