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Apr 22

Physician Burnout: Supporting Clinicians During a Viral Outbreak

You have heard the phrase before… physician burnout. It is not a new epidemic and is certainly not one that will subside during a global, viral outbreak. In order to prevent patients from succumbing to the disease or virus, healthcare workers stand on the frontlines to provide care and support. By being essential providers during a crisis, healthcare providers face exposure risk to the contagion and stress due to long hours and the emotional tumult of deadly viral outbreak. Let’s discuss what physician burnout is, what may cause it to spike during a viral outbreak, and how we can support clinicians.

What is physician burnout?

Physician burnout refers to the negative effects on patient care quality attributed to overstress in the workplace. This is often defined as extreme exhaustion, detachment from the job, and a feeling of a lack of accomplishment. The following are five undesirable consequences of physician burnout as mentioned in an article by AAFP

  • Lower patient satisfaction lending to lower care quality,
  • Higher rate of medical errors and malpractice risks,
  • Higher turnover rate among physicians and staff,
  • Risk of alcohol, drug abuse, and addiction among physician and staff,
  • Suicide risk.

As you see from the list above, physician burnout may lend to many consequences that not only negatively impact physician’s health but also patients. Supporting clinicians and members of their staff during times of undue stress and crisis to prevent these consequences is paramount.

What physician burnout stressors exist during a viral outbreak?

Stress levels during a viral outbreak are high. For clinicians, they may be even higher. The following reasons may exist that attribute to physician burnout…

  • Loss of control
    • This can be due to the way their practice operates, number of working hours, or other. This takes away a provider’s sense of order and control.
  • Exposure risk to the virus
    • Healthcare workers are exposed to the virus that their patients are fighting. Though they are provided with PPE, the risk still exists for them to contract the virus.
  • Fear of spreading the virus to their family members
    • Healthcare workers may be taking measures to stay elsewhere to prevent the spread to members of their family. During times of stress, many of us turn to our loved ones for comfort and support. When exposure risks reach highs, this support system often is removed from the picture to prevent the risk of further spread.
  • Lack of PPE
    • Concerns of lack of PPE for healthcare providers cause excess stress to frontline workers.
  • Long work hours
    • Work hours may be extended in order to cover the influx of patients entering into the healthcare system for treatment. This means less time to be with support systems, to practice self-care rituals, and to sleep.

How can we support clinicians experiencing burnout?

Providing support to clinicians and staff during a viral outbreak is vital.  This should be considered at both the organizational and personal level. Let’s break this down.

At the organizational level…

  • Provide access to call rooms for physicians working in large medical groups or hospitals
  • Aim for work schedules that allow for adequate sleep between shifts
  • Provide provisions for staff to promote physical resilience and emotional well-being (water, healthy snacks, charging stations, and toiletries)
  • Reduce non-essential office visits to limit workloads for staff member when possible
  • Clearly communicate schedules, expectations, protocols, and safety measures being made at the practice
  • Provide resources on managing your own mental health and advocates for clinicians during a crisis
  • Provide solutions to help streamline tasks (example: telehealth may allow providers to work from home at times instead of coming in and increasing exposure risk)

At the personal level…

  • Perform self-care rituals and ensure your basic needs are met (eat, drink, sleep, and exercise)
  • Take breaks when needed, when possible, and as you can to decompress and do things you enjoy (taking walks, reading books, snuggling pets)
  • Stay connected with colleagues, friends, and family whether that be virtually, through social distancing activities, or other creative means of remaining in contact
  • Stay updated on the current state of world through trusted sources or know when it is time to disconnect and trust that those around you will inform you of what is pertinent
  • Perform self-check-ins with yourself to monitor the state of your mental health
  • Recognize yourself for the honorable service you are providing to your community and remember to recognize your colleagues for the same – we thank you.

For those of us outside of the healthcare field, when wrapped up in a viral outbreak and outside of it, check in with those who are in the healthcare industry. Tell them thank you, ask how they are doing, and let them know that you care. Physician burnout is an epidemic that many face without the excess weight of a viral outbreak, but there are steps we can take at the organizational and personal level to help physicians and staff.

Are you looking for tools to streamline processes at your practice and prevent physician burnout? Visit us at or call us at 800.624.8832.

About the author,
Savanna Adams

Savanna is the Marketing Communication Specialist at Henry Schein MicroMD. She schedules emails to clients, prospects, and VARs, manages social media accounts, performs research, writes blogs and eBooks, and much more while helping to support the simple yet powerful MicroMD solutions.

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