Battling burnout

A recent survey found that the rate of burnout among North American vets is higher than that for doctors – a stark statistic given the well-documented emotional burden of treating people – but what is burnout exactly? While the word has traditionally been used to describe a sense of chronic exhaustion, researchers now have a much better understanding of what constitutes burnout, and why people get it.

Before we proceed however, we should challenge some common myths: in an edition of the Radio 4 programme ‘All in the Mind’ dedicated to burnout, the presenter Claudia Hammond asked Professor of Occupational Health Psychology, Gail Kinman whether there was a way of predicting who might suffer from the condition in the medical profession. In short, she replied, ‘it can be anybody’. So burnout is not a sign of weakness, nor does it result from someone simply failing to look after themselves – both these viewpoints are wide of the mark. As one large study put it, such perspectives ‘neglect the organizational factors that are the primary drivers of physician burnout’. So, how should we define it?

The World Health Organization describes burnout as:
A syndrome…resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.
It is characterized by three dimensions:
1. feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
2. increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of … cynicism related to one’s job and;
3. reduced professional efficacy.

Please read Mark Turner’s full article “Battling burnout” in the RCVS Knowledge Mental Health column in the July 2020 edition of BSAVA Companion’. (Free Access until the end of September 2020)


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