Tips for reducing burnout: A Message from the Chair

Posted on Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Dr. Dianne Delva at her desk with tips for reducing burnout

Dr. Dianne Delva at her desk, with Dr. Martina Scholtens' tips for reducing burnout

I recently read an FMRSP report quoting a Medscape article that stated how, “Resident burnout is reaching epidemic levels.” This trend has initiated discussions on how to prevent burnout. Our residents have led the way with a resilience committee, and Dr. David Tobin will be addressing approaches to support resilience at the Community Faculty Retreat on March 23-24. 

The psychology literature suggests that “work engagement” prevents burnout.  Work engagement is characterised by vigour, dedication, and absorption in one’s work. Vigour is your mental energy, persistence, and resilience, whereas a sense of significance, enthusiasm, inspiration, pride, and challenge characterise dedication. Absorption is your engrossment in your work, which gives rise to the feeling that time at work passes quickly. Engagement improves with a positive work environment, which includes organisational functionality, individual satisfaction, family-work balance, opportunities for professional development and competent leadership.

Kumar1 recommends three levels of change to reduce the risk of burnout:

  1. Modifying the organisational structure and work processes;
  2. Improving the fit between the organisation and the individual doctor through professional development programmes so that better adaption to the work environment occurs; and,
  3. Individual-level actions to reduce stress and poor health symptoms through effective coping and healthy behaviours.

In a recent book, Your Heart Is the Size of Your Fist: A Doctor Reflects on Ten Years at a Refugee Clinic2, Dr. Martina Scholtens describes challenging experiences where she was clearly engaged and avoided burnout. The strategies she used to cope with this demanding work environment impressed me enough to post them at my desk (see above!):

  1. Connect with the people around you (family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, etc.);
  2. Be active. Go for a walk or run, cycle, garden, etc.;
  3. Take notice. Be curious, catch sight of the beautiful and remark on the unusual;
  4. Keep learning. Try something new, rediscover an old interest, or take on different responsibilities; and,
  5. Give. Do something nice for a friend (or a stranger) or volunteer your time. Thank someone.

While these are helpful, Kumar1 warns that individual strategies in isolation will not prevent burnout.  As a department, we can address some challenges with improved organisational processes, professional development and mentorship.  I look forward to your ideas on how we can support our faculty and residents to improve work engagement and reduce burnout. 

The University of Ottawa is currently offering a free 30-Day Mindfulness Challenge through MindWell-U. This exercise, which takes 5 minutes per day over a 30-day period, aims to help participants to increase resilience, reduce stress and improve performance. Try it today!

  1. Kumar, S. Burnout and Doctors: Prevalence, Prevention and Intervention. Healthcare (Basel). 2016 Sep; 4(3): 37.Published online 2016 Jun 30. doi:  10.3390/healthcare4030037
  2. Scholtens, M. Your Heart Is the Size of Your Fist: A Doctor Reflects on Ten Years at a Refugee Clinic. Brindle and Glass; 2017
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