Warning signs that you’re burning out

An easy to check list for physicians

Paula S. Katz | September 16, 2015
Physician burnout checklist

If you devote more than one-third of your seven-day week to work—approximately 50-55 hours—you are at risk for losing your work-life balance, setting the stage for a slide into professional burnout, says Peter Moskowitz, MD, executive director, Center for Professional and Personal Renewal, Palo Alto, Calif.

To see if you’re heading down that path, he provides these checklists to help you take stock of your well-being:

Physical: Early stages of burnout may present physically. Symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Stomach upset
  • Inability to sleep
  • Lack of appetite
  • Headaches
  • Angina

Emotional: The emotional warning signals often occur in the following order:

  • Irritability
  • Loss of empathy
  • Compassion fatigue
  • Easy to anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Work attitude: Other signs of burnout include:

  • You isolate yourself when you come home from work.
  • You lose interest in activities you used to enjoy.
  • You no longer find your clinical practice fun or you find it boring.
  • You hate what you are doing.
  • Frequent arguments with staff and coworkers.
  • Loss of empathy for patients’ problems.

If taking a week off from work does not relieve the symptoms, Dr. Moskowitz says, that’s a big clue that you’re becoming—or already are—burned out.

David Frenz, MD, medical director for mental health and addiction care at St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul, Minn., suggests pondering some validated questions from the Maslach Burnout Inventory:

  • I feel emotionally drained from my work.
  • I feel used up at the end of the work day.
  • I feel fatigued when I get up in the morning and have to face another day on the job.
  • Working with people all day is really a strain for me.

Responses can range from 0 (“never”) to 6 (“every day”), with higher scores suggesting possible burnout.

For more information on the signs of burnout, here are some resources:

Mayo Clinic: Job burnout and how to spot it.

Psychology Today: The telltale signs of burnout.

PubMed Health: Depression: What is burnout syndrome?

Dr. Burnout: Burnout checklist for individual physician.

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