When you deplete your physical “energy account,” you are expending more physical energy than you are replenishing. This goes back to residency, when we are trained to continue coming to work, even when our energy is below zero. Doctors are taught to neglect their own health, and eventually that starts to catch up. Draining the physical “energy account” corresponds to the exhaustion stage of burnout.

The second “energy account” is emotional. A negative balance here gives rise to the second stage of burnout, which is depersonalization. Physical exhaustion can lead to impatience with patients and the desire to get through the visit so that the myriad other tasks can be fulfilled and you can go home. So the physician experiences an emotional shutdown that makes it harder to feel empathy for the pain and suffering of patients.

Both of these contribute to the third stage of burnout, which is lack of efficacy—in other words, depleting the spiritual “energy account.” You begin to question the meaning of what you are doing in a profession you entered because the vision of alleviating suffering was so meaningful to you. 

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How can these three “accounts” be replenished?

It is essential to learn how to lower stress at work and increase your ability to recharge at home. Small changes on both sides of that equation can make a big difference and allow the doctor to always have a positive energy balance.

We teach 235 tools to prevent or overcome burnout, and it is reassuring to know that there is such a large smorgasbord to choose from. Most doctors employ a burnout prevention strategy that uses just 3 to 5 of these tools.

What are some of the main strategies you recommend?

Almost everyone has a weekly work calendar. I suggest that you also create a weekly “life calendar” and keep it on your cell phone together with your work calendar. Include in your “life calendar” those things you would like to create a work-life balance.

If you are unable to find anything to do because work is taking up all of your time, this is the first clue that something needs to be changed on the work front so that you can begin to include non-work activities in your life. One way to adjust your workload is to template “broken record moments” in documentation. If you find yourself feeling like a broken record, writing the same note over and over again, that is a huge opportunity to create a template. With a template, that same note becomes a single keystroke. When you have templated all your broken record moments, you will get home sooner without having to work harder. Guaranteed.

Some physicians will indeed need to change jobs, if their current position is untenable. If this is the case, I advise the doctor take some time to build a written Ideal Job Description and use it to focus your search. This will make sure that you are focused on finding a better situation instead of simply running away from a bad one. We offer specific online training in how to build your Ideal Job Description and engage in the job search and interview process.