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3 Ways Burnout Affects a Physician's Personal Life

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There's an epidemic sweeping hospital wards across the United States — but patients are immune. Burnout strikes stressed-out physicians who are underpaid, underappreciated and overworked. Characterized by feelings of depression and anxiety, burnout is a silent disease that bubbles up from under the surface. Shockingly, nearly 60 percent of ED physicians saying they feel burned out — up 10 percent from 2013. The cause? Too many hours at work, bureaucratic tasks and increased computerization in the healthcare sector. Here are three ways burnout impacts physicians' personal lives.


[RELATED: Discover everything you need to know about physician burnout and promoting well-being in your institution.]

1. Burnout Affects Sleep Quality

Research shows that burnout negatively impacts the quality of your sleep. This can influence various areas of your personal life and affect your personal relationships. Lack of sleep results in low energy levels, for example, which can cause family and marital stress.

For physicians, lack of sleep can have a detrimental effect on their professional lives, too. It impairs language and math skills, weakens ECG interpretation, increases the amount of time it takes to perform surgical procedures, increases error rates in intensive care units and generates less empathy for patients, according to research.

Still, there are no universal guidelines that dictate the number of hours a doctor should work without sleep. "Sleep deprivation is hazardous to pilots and truck drivers. That’s why they have restricted hours in the cockpit and behind the wheel. Doctors, on the other hand, don’t have mandatory restricted hours on call and at night," says emergency physician Brian Goldman, MD, writing for Quartz.

One way to accurately self-assess symptoms of poor sleep quality and other burnout side effects is to use the Physician Well-Being Index. The WBI's web-based tools help physicians track their well-being over time to promote wellness at work and at home.

2. Burnout Affects Your Personality

Burnout can have a significant impact on your personality, especially after working long hours or dealing with stressful situations in the workplace. Physicians, who work, on average, between 40 and 60 hours a week, are likely to be irritable, self-critical, sensitive and anxious. This can have an effect on a physician's social relationships.

"[These are] the unsavory effects of burnout on your personality: anger, irritability, depression, pessimism. Not exactly the type of person most of us would want to come home to at night, right?" asks Ashley Stahl, writing for Forbes magazine.

Just like with lack of sleep, personality changes can impact a physician's work, too. Irritability and pessimism will sour physician-patient relationships and often results in a lack of empathy.

3. Burnout Affects Eating Habits

Stressed, burned-out physicians are more likely to eat unhealthily. Not only do they lack time to prepare healthy foods after a long day at work, but they are prone to the habit of "emotional eating."

Research found that women who experienced burnout at work are more inclined to eat when stressed, anxious or feeling low, even if they don't feel hungry. The study, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, also discovered these women are more likely to suffer from "uncontrolled eating" — an insatiable need for more food.

Again, emotional and uncontrolled eating can have an impact on a physician's job. Poor eating habits result in stress, anxiety, high blood pressure and depression.

Burnout impacts sleep quality, personality and dietary habits, making it a major problem for physicians in hospitals and medical environments across the country. Not only does a physician's personal life suffer, but burnout can impact the quality of care a professional provides to his or her patients.

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