Doctor burnout rate concerns patients

When you get sick or need medical advice, who is it you trust? Who are you gonna call? Ghostbusters! Probably not. While they do a fairly adequate job controlling the ghost population, you would most likely call a doctor.

When you ask children what they want to be when they grow up, they usually answer with a few choices: president, astronaut, lawyer or doctor. These professions are all seen as secure. If you make it in one of these areas, then you are deemed successful. You can’t climb any higher on the ladder, it seems.

Doctors are smart, well-paid and always in demand. As leaders in medicine, they are viewed as a vital component of our society. But it is also a stressful and demanding job. Every day, hundreds of thousands of people place their lives in the hands of doctors.

The idea of doctor burnout is a hot issue right now. Even though doctors must remain attentive because they have a job that demands concentration and commitment every second of their workday, they are often scheduled to work extensive hours. Though they save lives every day, one mistake can cost a life in the health care profession.

I grew up surrounded by the world of medicine. My dad, aunt, uncle, grandpa and great-grandpa are all doctors. When I was growing up, there were entire weeks where I wouldn’t see my dad. He would get home from work at three or four in the morning and go to bed, and I would leave for school at six. He worked 12 hours every day, sometimes more.

Every evening he was physically exhausted. But I was also struck by how mentally exhausted he was. A lot of the time, he was so zoned out that he wouldn’t listen to what I was saying. It was almost like he retreated into his own world the moment he got home.

He needed to be alone, and he needed to rejuvenate. I responded to his lack of focus by turning it into a game, seeing how many times I could yell “Dad!” before he would snap out of his thoughts and answer.

Recent studies show that other doctors also struggle with focusing on the present. Some studies suggest that doctors should be taught mindfulness when working with their patients. Doctors listen to the list of symptoms and give their patient a long, “sciencey” answer. But that’s not what patients need. Too often, patients don’t understand what they are being tested for or what is really wrong with them.

I always perceive nurses as the mindful, empathetic aspect of the world of medicine. The doctor, on the other hand, comes in, listens to the problems and finds the solution.

Some hospitals have started short workshops that teach doctors techniques to increase mindfulness when communicating with their patients, such as taking a deep breath and clearing their thoughts before seeing a new patient. It can be mentally taxing to jump from patient to patient, and doctors need to find ways to treat each patient as if they were the first patient of their shift.

Hospitals have also realized the toll working long hours takes on those in the medical profession. They have established new maximum hours for medical students, interns and residents, ensuring fewer overwhelmingly long shifts.

Obviously we need doctors. We need them to help us when we are hurt or sick, and we trust them to keep us healthy when we are doing well. In the past decade alone, we have seen many improvements in human health, such as in life expectancy and treatments for chronic illnesses.

Doctors are concerned with our health, but they should also be interested in us as individuals. It is important that doctors remember that patients are real people and not just another puzzle to be solved.

Katie Haggstrom ’14 is from Omaha, Neb. She majors in English with a concentration in Africa and the Americas.