Dr W. Clay Jackson Discusses Identifying, Addressing Clinician Burnout

W. Clay Jackson, MD, DipTh, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry, department of family medicine, University of Tennessee College of Medicine, discusses factors leading to and telltale signs of clinician burnout, best practices for addressing burnout, and how well the United States health system addresses burnout.


What factors commonly lead to clinician burnout, and what are the telltale signs of burnout?

So, there are sort of 3 areas classically associated with burnout, and those would be emotional exhaustion (I just can’t do this anymore), depersonalization, which is a sort of cynicism separating the full self from the work task to sort of coming in and checking in, checking the clock, and checking out, rather than fully engaging in the opportunities and challenges of the workplace. And finally, a low sense of personal accomplishment. I don’t get enjoyment and fulfillment out of my job task or job role anymore.

Those are the 3 classic areas of burnout and sort of the telltale signs. In terms of what places clinicians at most risk, again, most clinicians list administrative tasks at the top of the stack in terms of what drives them to experience burnout. In terms of work life balance, if there are problems at work, that’s bad. If there are problems at home, that’s bad. But, if there’s a conflict between the work and home, where my work problems are bleeding over into my home life, or my home life problems are bleeding over into the work space, those are the worst combinations and can place clinicians at highest risk of burnout.

Once burnout is identified, what are best practices for addressing it?
Raise your hand an ask for help, talk to a trusted mentor or colleague, talk to administrators, advisors, or other members of the team to say, “Hey, I think I need to take a step back and understand how I can regain job satisfaction, regain a sense of personal accomplishment, recharge the batteries, so to speak.”

Sometimes, paradoxically, we think, “Oh, I can’t do that because the team needs me, or the patient needs me, the hospital needs me, the clinic needs me.” In fact, it’s just the opposite of what we should do because, again, a clinician who’s not well is a clinician who’s not performing well. Not only for the team, but also for the patients or the clients that they’re serving.

Has our health system gotten better at addressing burnout in recent years?
I think we are learning to pay much more attention to it, and I’d like to say that’s all for philosophic and altruistic reasons, but an actual point of fact, there are some very important managerial reasons why healthcare systems should address burnout proactively and then once its recognized be very aggressive, if you’’ pardon the adjective, in pursuing help for folks who are experiencing burnout.

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