By Shree Agrawal
In the preclinical years of medical school, the idea of burnout among healthcare workers is more of an abstract concept. The unique environment of healthcare, regardless of specialty or academic/private practice settings, has been shown to make all healthcare providers vulnerable to burnout.(1)(2) In my observations on clinical rotations, it seems highly successful peers, trainees, and faculty, who may have multiple publications, excellent clinical skills, and a strong work ethic, can also be the same individuals who unexpectedly experience burnout. Interactions with someone who does not realize they may actually be experiencing burnout are challenging, even for individuals who are at the fray of most clinical situations.
Some of the key manifestations of burnout include emotional exhaustion, cynicism, depersonalization or isolation, feelings of ineffectiveness, and lack of accomplishment, as shown in Figure 1.(3) Some of these features are difficult to fully notice in brief professional interactions with peers and superiors. Instead, common outward defining behaviors in burnout may be a focus on professional survival, fewer reflective practices, reduced desire to be at work, and/or a diminishing appeal of clinical and non-clinical activities.(4)
Figure 1: Factors contributing to and subsequent manifestations of burnout
For all the successes visible to the outsider, the relevance of personal and professional accomplishments to the person, who may be burned out, appear less significant. A component of this perception could be individual focus on future goals and milestones. Regardless, I am curious. Does the perception of personal success change in the process of burnout? Do achievements seem less worthy in the face of factors contributing to burnout?
Even though I would posit my observations are a multifactorial outcome, studies would imply this is not an uncommon phenomenon. Research within healthcare settings demonstrated insufficient recognition of employee contributions corresponded to healthcare providers feeling less respected and valuable to their organizations. This belief alone can cause providers to experience higher levels of emotional exhaustion, feelings of ineffectiveness, and subsequent burnout.(5) Another study suggests individuals who identify as a minority in society may receive less recognition and credibility for their accomplishments/capabilities when compared to their counterparts. Many minority participants in this study expressed already feeling burned out in their training. They stated their role on the team was not viewed as meaningful, or worse, unsatisfactory. Alarmingly, some minority participants not only revealed their feelings of inferiority to their peers but also doubted their own accomplishments, abilities, and personalities.(6) The infrequency or lack of recognition in healthcare both contributes to burnout and reduces individual perceptions of professional competencies and capabilities.
On the blog, we have talked about practicing gratitude and cultivating resilience in the face of burnout.(7,8,9,10) While these are important tools, I wonder if we should also encourage the practice of acknowledging both our own success ladders and those of the people working alongside us.
Outward recognition, while not common within medicine, is crucial to defining individual success. It facilitates finding value in our professional responsibilities, validates personal efforts for growth, and positively changes the perception of personal success. Recognition ultimately nurtures essential skills, traits, and resilience required in the practice of medicine.
Shree is a fourth year medical student at Case Western Reserve University, where she also completed her bachelors of science degree in biology. Currently, she is completing a clinical research fellowship in genitourinary reconstruction at the Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute at Cleveland Clinic and serving as the Chair of the AWS National Medical Student Committee. Shree is passionate about research surrounding patient decision-making and medical education. In her free time, she enjoys blogging for AWS, practicing yoga, and boxing.
Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.