With studies revealing that nearly half of neurologists experience at least one symptom of burnout1,2 a special task force was launched in 2016 by the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) to research the problem. According to Sankar Bandyopadhyay, MD, associate professor of neurology, Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, “The first step in solving any problem, including burnout, is to recognize it. Physicians in general tend to deny, even to themselves, that they may be experiencing burnout.” Physician burnout is marked by feeling emotionally exhausted, being less empathetic with patients and being unsatisfied at work; in some cases there may be depression and substance use, abuse or addiction.3 The abbreviated Maslach Burnout Inventory is a validated self-administered questionnaire that identifies the presence and severity of burnout symptoms.4
Dr. Bandyopadhyay points out that there are evidence-based, proven interventions that those experiencing burnout can use to help themselves.5-7 “Maybe the most powerful of these is ‘mindfulness.’ It’s a strategy to reduce stress and re-frame how we think, to experience less frustration and boredom,” he says. In several trials with physician participants, formal mindfulness training significantly decreased depersonalization, emotional exhaustion and overall burnout scores.5-7
As noted by thought leaders in burnout interventions8, necessary steps in the path to burnout recovery include a healthier work-life balance, establishing healthy emotional boundaries, improving communication among peers and with family8 and engaging in creative pursuits. Dr. Bandyopadhyay explains, “It’s helpful to engage in something creative, something totally different from what we do professionally. This helps us to recharge both emotionally and physically.” Dr. Bandyopadhyay has launched an internal departmental magazine called Fifth Dimension. Mary Elizabeth Kovacik-Eicher, MD, a second-year neurology resident, contributed an article for the first issue that focused on the risk of burnout for neurologists and the impact it can have on medical errors and the physicians’ ability to empathize with their patients. Other features in the first two editions have included mindfulness and emotional intelligence, personal stories of illness, as well as original poetry and photography created by department physicians. To read Dr. Kovacik Eicher’s article, go to bit.ly/Physician-Burnout.
Sankar Bandyopadhyay, MD
Associate Professor of Neurology
FELLOWSHIP: Clinical neurophysiology, Medical College of
Georgia, Augusta, Ga.
RESIDENCY: Transitional, Marshfield Clinic-St. Joseph’s
Hospital, Marshfield, Wis.; Neurology, University of Wisconsin
Hospitals and Clinics, Madison, Wis.
MEDICAL SCHOOL: Calcutta National Medical College, India
Mary Elizabeth Kovacik Eicher, MD
RESIDENCY: Neurology, Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey
Medical Center, Hershey, Pa.
MEDICAL SCHOOL: Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey, Pa.s
- Sigsbee B, Bernat, JL. Physician burnout: a neurologic crisis. Neurology. 2014;83:2302-2306.
- Cascino TL. 2015. President’s column: improving the well-being of neurologists. AAN News; 29(10):3,27.
- Oreskovich MR, Shanafelt T, Dyrbye LN, Tan L, Sotile W, Satele D, West CP, Sloan J, Boone S. 2015. The prevalence of substance usedisorders in American physicians. Am J Addict. 2015 Jan;24(1):30-8.
- Abbreviated Maslach Burnout Inventory. https://www.aap.org/en-us/Documents/soim_abbreviated_maslach_burnout_inventory.pdf. Accessed July 28, 2016.
- KrasnerMS, Epstein RM, Beckman H, et al. 2009. Association of an educational program in mindful communication with burnout, empathy, and attitudes among primary care physicians. JAMA. Sep 23;302(12):1284-93.
- Siedsma M, Emlet L. 2015. Physician burnout: can we make a difference together? Crit Care. Jul 2;19:273.
- Asuero AM, Queraltó JM, Pujol-Ribera E, et al. 2014. Effectiveness of a mindfulness education program in primary health care professionals: a pragmatic controlled trial. J Contin Educ Health Prof. Winter;34(1):4-12.
- Mike Drummond. Physician burnout prevention. https://www.thehappymd.com/. Accessed July 24, 2016.