What You Should Know to Help Improve Your Lifestyle as an Orthopedic Surgeon

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5 Ways to Help Prevent Physician Burnout

Regardless of your field, professionals are experiencing higher levels of pressure today than ever before. Technology allows for constant connection, but this connection often makes it difficult to disconnect and maintain a healthy work/life balance. As the pressure builds, it becomes a source of frustration and, when not well managed, burnout can occur.

The phenomenon of burnout has an outsized impact on physicians — including orthopedic surgeons. In addition to continuous patient care, there are overwhelming amounts of paperwork to file. And, unfortunately, burnout doesn’t just harm doctors. It can also impact patients. There is good news, however — orthopedic surgeons can help prevent burnout with a few simple lifestyle adjustments.

First, however, it’s important to understand physician burnout and its causes.

What is Orthopedic Surgeon Burnout?

According to the Mayo Clinic, burnout is marked by physical and emotional exhaustion and a lack of job satisfaction. Early indicators can include cynicism, withdrawal, difficulty in personal relationships and a general lack of enthusiasm for work.

Physician burnout is an increasingly recognized societal problem. In the United States, physician suicide rates are 1.4-2.3 times that of the general population. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), along with many specialty societies, has made addressing physician burnout a top priority. In 2018, it was the subject of Dr. James Chang’s Presidential Address at the Annual Hand Society Meeting.

According to the Medscape National Physician Burnout & Suicide Report 2020, 34 percent of orthopedic surgeons have reported burnout and 55 percent of all physicians surveyed expressed too many bureaucratic tasks as the top contributing factor, followed by spending too many hours at work at 33 percent and lack of respect from administrators, employers, colleagues or staff at 32 percent.

While its impact on happiness levels and quality of life for physicians is a serious concern, burnout can have even more serious consequences. It carries significant physical health risks like cardiovascular disease, increased susceptibility to illness and higher rates of substance abuse. Burnout is also correlated with higher rates of human error and, in turn, more malpractice claims. It can make you wonder: are physician burnout and too many patients making doctors sick?

It is clear that burnout is a significant problem for all medical professionals, including orthopedic surgeons. When a physician has difficulty motivating themselves, getting things done or staying present during the day, it is often a sign that something needs to change. In order to pursue change, however, the causes of burnout first need to be identified.

What Causes Burnout for Orthopedic Surgeons?

While the causes of burnout can be highly individualized, there are several factors that play a clear role in this phenomenon and provide insight into how it can be best managed and prevented.

  • In almost every case of burnout, someone experiences demands that exceed their emotional reserves. For orthopedic surgeons, this fatigue can stem from helping people who are in pain on a daily basis, or not having the work/life balance needed to replenish their emotional reserves.
  • Burnout can also arise from the pressure of caring for patients. Physicians build their careers around improving the quality of life for their patients, and many inadvertently sacrifice their own wellbeing in the process. Providing value-based care and needing to prove positive outcomes also adds to this pressure.
  • It’s also difficult for orthopedic surgeons to achieve a healthy work/life balance. This problem is exacerbated by advances in healthcare tech. The convenience of remote work often becomes an overwhelming pressure for constant connection. Remote access to orthopedic EMRs allows physicians to take unfinished work home at the end of the day, so even much needed downtime can be lost to administrative tasks.
  • Even at the office, orthopedic EMRs can be a significant source of stress. No physician chose medicine because they wanted to be consistently overcome with paperwork. It’s an unfortunately necessary piece of their role, but the sheer volume can be disheartening and eventually lead to burnout.

These aren’t the only factors in orthopedic surgeon burnout. Age is another. Residents and those practicing for fewer than ten years report higher rates of burnout, but noted above are four significant ones, and they often come together in an unfortunate combination. Fortunately, there are ways orthopedic surgeons can adjust their lifestyle to prevent and manage burnout.

Keys for Orthopedic Surgeons to Prevent Burnout

Every case of burnout is different, and it’s vital to determine the individual causes in order to effectively address them. However, here are five key tasks that orthopedic surgeons can do to care for themselves and help increase their level of job satisfaction and engagement.

1. Remember the Why — Most orthopedic surgeons selected their field because they care deeply about patients and want them to be well. Unfortunately, it can be easy to lose sight of the larger purpose when bogged down in monotony and paperwork. Setting aside intentional time to remember who they’re caring for and why goes a long way toward helping orthopedic surgeons feel renewed and ready to get to work.

2. Find Time for the Important Things — When work/life balance suffers, one of the first things to go is hobbies. Quality time with friends and family is often a close second. That’s why intentionality is important. By scheduling time for the things they love — whether that’s family dinners or time on the golf course — orthopedic surgeons can achieve a healthier balance in daily life and maintain more energy and passion for patient care.

3. Practice (Real) Self-Care — This is another area of life that physicians often sacrifice in favor of caring for patients. Practicing self-care means caring not just for the current self but also for the future self. This includes maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, exercising regularly, eating well and practicing mindfulness. Even incorporating one or two of these self-care activities can go a long way toward helping orthopedic surgeons feel refreshed and up for any challenge.

4. Seek out Peer Support — Burnout rates are often lower among groups that are actively engaged with their peers — specifically those who belong to national specialty organizations. These kinds of groups help boost personal accomplishment levels and can increase physicians’ overall level of job satisfaction, thereby preventing (or helping address) feelings of burnout.

4. Streamline Daily Workflow — Last, but certainly not least, is to use technology tools that help make it possible to finish work during the workday. For most practices, part of this solution means finding an orthopedic electronic medical record (EMR) system that is intuitive, easy to use and built specifically for an orthopedic workflow. By streamlining paperwork and reporting with the help of tech, physicians and their staff should have more time to create space for hobbies, family time and exercise, and maintain a better work/life balance.

Conclusion

Because there isn’t one single cause of burnout, there also isn’t one single solution. However, it’s evident that orthopedic surgeon burnout is a significant problem that needs to be addressed. For practices and physicians who are eager to alleviate burnout, an important place to start is with technology.

Practices need an orthopedic EMR that helps surgeons leave their work at work. It should be intuitive, easy to use and efficient. If an existing EMR isn’t streamlining workflow, it is time to consider a new solution.

See how you can achieve a healthier practice with modmed® Orthopedics

Sources

Daniels, A. H., Depasse, J. M., & Kamal, R. N. (2016). Orthopaedic Surgeon Burnout. Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 24(4), 213–219. doi: 10.5435/jaaos-d-15-00148

Gardner, R. L., Cooper, E., Haskell, J., Harris, D. A., Poplau, S., Kroth, P. J., & Linzer, M. (2018). Physician stress and burnout: the impact of health information technology. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 26(2), 106–114. doi: 10.1093/jamia/ocy145

Healio. (2009, December 1). Burnout: A quality-of-life issue that can particularly affect orthopedic surgeons. Retrieved from https://www.healio.com/orthopedics/news/print/orthopedics-today/{7937fc17-89ed-48f7-aec8-9d6a6ca86c31}/burnout-a-quality-of-life-issue-that-can-particularly-affect-orthopedic-surgeons.

Kane, Leslie, MA. (2020, January 15). Medscape National Physician Burnout & Suicide Report 2020: The Generational Divide. Retrieved from https://www.medscape.com/slideshow/2020-lifestyle-burnout-6012460#1.

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