“Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out. Breathing in, I notice my breath has become deep. Breathing out I notice my breath has become slow. Breathing in, I calm my body and my mind. Breathing out, I am at ease. Breathing in, I smile. Breathing out, I release. Breathing in, I got back to the present moment. Breathing out, I know this moment is a wonderful moment. In, Out. Deep, Slow. Calm, Ease. Smile, Release. Present moment, wonderful moment”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
The great Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh has been trumpeted around the world for his approach in peacefulness, mindfulness and compassion. Hanh has a unique ability to embody compassion. Compassion is defined as a response to suffering that motivates a desire to help. For many care providers, compassion is the paramount reason why they decided to commit their life to the service of others. And yet, there is a dark side of compassion in which we may become burnt out and become victims to the suffering that we hoped to overcome.
Caregiver burnout in the healthcare industry is a real problem that has the ability to impact every level of patient care. Burnout occurs when one of our three energy bodies become compromised whether it be physical, emotional and/or spiritual. You may have heard the phrase “running on empty”. As a result of this decreased energy, you may experience exhaustion, depersonalization to work or life, and/or lack of efficacy, according to Dike Drummond, MD.
Some of the biggest concerns that occur from physician/caregiver burnout, according to Drummond, are:
- Lower patient satisfaction and care quality
- Higher medical error rates and malpractice risk
- Higher physician and staff turnover
- Alcohol and drug abuse and addiction
According to Gregory L. Taylor II, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine and medical director, Keck Medicine – Downtown Los Angeles, “Physician burnout has reached epidemic proportions which impairs the ability of the health care system to improve outcomes. Physicians who are burning out find it difficult to inspire and motivate future physician leaders who may change the environment which has led to these stressors. Thus we perpetuate a negative feedback loop of distraught physicians ineffectively improving health outcomes for the nation, failing to motivate the next generation of change agents and struggling to find personal work life fulfillment.”
A study in 2015 conducted by the Mayo Clinic found that out of 3,896 physicians, nearly 40 percent experienced at least one symptom of burnout. It is quite remarkable to consider that nearly half of our physicians have experienced some form of burnout considering the knowledge of how burnout impacts patient safety. The ACA (Affordable Care Act) states the risk of burnout amongst physicians represents a significant threat to their ability to improve the health and experience of the patients they serve.
Some of the largest ways to reduce caregiver burnout are to reduce environmental stressors and/or improve our ability to recharge our energy. Here are some helpful approaches:
1.) Recognize and Respond: The most beneficial thing you can do if you know you are experiencing some form of burn out is to seek help. As a caregiver/provider, believing that you can resolve your burnout without assistance may be a determinant to yourself or someone else. Seeking help may help you to save a life and provide optimal patient care.
2.) Mindfulness Practice: Modern neuroscience has found that when we become mindful, we are able to rewire our brain’s natural tendencies. Through neuroplasticity, our brains become better adapt to handling stressors that would otherwise create a negative outcome.
3.) Healthy diet: Plant based diets reduce the development of chemicals that evoke stressful responses in our bodies. This may allow for us to be less reactive to situations that would typically evoke an adverse response in our emotional and/or physical body.
4.) Loving-Kindness Meditation: Loving-Kindness meditation is allowing yourself to be open to evoking love and kindness to others and more importantly yourself. Working with the meditation at the top of this article is an example of a meditation that can help to evoke more love and kindness in your life. In working with burnout, there are many ways
In working with burnout, there are many ways that physicians, nurses and staff can adapt their lifestyle in order to better provide health care for others. The most important step in recognizing that you are actively experiencing burnout is to address it. In effect, by helping yourself, you will be better able to serve others. Burnout may have detrimental effects to us as caregivers/providers and to those we provide care for. It is imperative that we recognize the need in addressing burnout in healthcare so that we can provide the optimal care that best suites ourselves, our patients and our families. ■
SUMMER 2017 VOL 2 • ISSUE 1 9
COMPASSIONATE CARE: FROM BURNOUT TO OPTIMAL CARE