As a health professional, you’ve likely been hit over the head with messages telling you to protect yourself from burnout any way you can. Go to the spa! Take days off! Talk to your coworkers about your problems!
In an ideal world, busy RNs, NPs and PAs would prioritize self-care on a regular basis, but you probably only carve a hole in your busy schedule for it when it’s absolutely necessary. But how can you tell when you need to address your burnout?
Luckily, one experienced medical professional, Gary Simonds, MD, professor at Virginia Tech’s School of Neuroscience, has devised a simple test. Dr. Simonds developed this exercise while coauthoring his book Thriving in Healthcare, inspired by the program he created, which all but eliminated burnout within his neurosurgical team. Dr. Simonds also has a master’s degree in healthcare delivery science.
How Bad is Your Burnout?
“One good way to test how you’re doing at work is to imagine you’re watching a video of yourself” in a situation that took place earlier that day or week, Dr. Simonds tells Florence Health. Then, “ask yourself, ‘How would you respond to your own behavior?’ We find a lot of people can be very surprised when presented with other people’s assessments of how they’re doing.” This exercise puts you in their shoes.
Some of the subtler manifestations of burnout include anger, aggression, nastiness, snide comments and dark humor, Dr. Simonds adds. The test is especially important for APPs, because, in his experience, they rarely grant themselves permission to “practice self-compassion … Physicians and residents are more focused on themselves, whereas APPs are closer to patients and give of themselves all the time. It almost becomes anathema to think about yourself,” he says.
Keep Burnout at Bay
When you mentally replay the video of your own behavior, if you do notice yourself succumbing to symptoms of burnout, experimenting with some the elements of Dr. Simonds’ initiative might help. He recommends debriefing with coworkers about what you’re feeling so you don’t have to carry those stressors by yourself. Challenge yourself to think about how you react to problems, not just the problems themselves, talk a little every day about positive events.
Just keep in mind that one, single strategy rarely works for every person. (That’s the downfall of many healthcare systems’ efforts, Dr. Simonds points out.) And for these techniques to be successful, you need to establish sustained routine. Why?
“Everybody involved in healthcare are like elite athletes — they’re expected to perform their best every day,” Dr. Simonds explains. “An elite athlete doesn’t just walk onto the field and do that. They do a lot of preparation and injury prevention. Of course, they only have to perform once a week.”
Thriving in Healthcare: A Positive Approach to Reclaim Balance and Avoid Burnout in Your Busy Life, Gary Simonds and Wayne Sotile.
Last updated 10/8/2019.