Today in the chart

How Severe is Your Burnout?

This exercise can help you assess how close to burnout you really are and these tips can help you move past it

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 regularly. Still, you probably only carve a hole in your busy schedule when 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 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 earlier that day or week, Dr. Simonds tells The Nursing Beat. Then, “ask yourself, ‘How would you respond to your own behavior?’ Many people can be very surprised when presented with other people’s assessments of how they’re doing.” This exercise puts you in their shoes.

Dr. Simonds adds some subtler manifestations of burnout, including anger, aggression, nastiness, snide comments, and dark humor. The test is especially important for APPs because, in his experience, they rarely permit themselves 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 behavior, if you notice yourself succumbing to symptoms of burnout, experimenting with some of the elements of Dr. Simonds’ initiative might help. He recommends debriefing with coworkers about what you feel so you don’t have to carry those stressors yourself. Challenge yourself to think about how you react to problems, not just the problems themselves, and talk daily 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 must establish a sustained routine. Why? 

“Everybody involved in healthcare is 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. Then, they only have to perform once a week.”

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