As a Pediatrician, are you starting to feel overwhelmed by all of the uncertainty in medicine today?
In the midst of the pandemic, physicians of all specialties have felt an increasingly heavy burden. As Pediatricians, we were somewhat “saved” from the perils of the pandemic in our patient population since children had lower rates of COVID-19 infection early on. Most schools and summer camps were closed in 2020, and our patients were safe at home. Also most children who did happen to become infected by COVID-19 were asymptomatic and recovered without immediate consequences.
Then along came the Delta variant.
With the most recent wave of COVID-19 cases, a rising number of children are being infected every single day. Schools are open, and activities are back to normal functioning. And unfortunately, children are now more likely to become ill from the SARS-Cov2 virus.
As Pediatricians, we managed to make it through a busy back-to-school physical season this summer. We did not get a chance to pause and catch our breath and are now faced with large numbers of COVID-19 infections all around us. Sick children are coming into our offices, emergency rooms, and hospitals. Plus, a large portion of our patient population is not yet eligible to be vaccinated against this deadly disease.
Add to this the ongoing struggles we face as physicians: Handling difficult parents, defending ourselves against “Dr. Google,” fighting against insurance companies – all issues that contribute to the stress we are dealing with.
If you are a pediatrician, you also have to go home to take care of your children after hearing your patients crying and screaming all day. And if you are anything like me, you also worry about COVID-19 every single day that you send your unvaccinated children to school. So many of us are feeling burnt out, with no clear end in sight.
Signs of burnout
If you are experiencing burnout in your career, you are likely feeling physically and emotionally exhausted. You may no longer believe you are making a difference in your patients’ lives. Going to work is no longer satisfying. It adds more stress to your life than benefits. Burnout can cause you to criticize yourself harshly and force you to believe that you are not good enough to do the job. Imposter syndrome can show up when you least expect it. You may also develop poor decision-making and make mistakes in patient care.
How do you prevent pediatrician burnout?
These are a few things that have worked for me during this busy time:
- Stay close to family and friends. Keep your loved ones close to receive the support you need. Have people in your life to talk to about your day or about anything other than medicine if you choose.
- Have an outlet. Continue doing those things that you enjoy outside of work. Remember that your career does not define you. Whether you love music, art, dance, reading, playing sports – anything that you love to do – do it! Also, find a way to relax and express your feelings, whether through journaling, meditation, yoga, etc.
- Prioritize your tasks. Recognize those things that need to be done today and those that you can put off until tomorrow. Make a realistic plan for each day and try your best to stick to it to be as productive as possible. Productivity can be so rewarding – making you feel good about yourself and freeing up your time for the activities you enjoy.
- Lessen your workload. If you own your practice, try delegating nonessential tasks to other employees, limiting your patient schedule and call schedule, adding more time for each patient appointment, and streamlining redundant tasks. If you are employed, discuss this with your employer and demand change in these areas to increase your satisfaction in the workplace.
- Leave work at work. Develop an “off switch,” where you set appropriate limits and avoid carrying work home. Having a ritual such as wiping off your desk or changing out of your work clothes can be your signal that you are indeed done for the day. And don’t pick up any more work until you absolutely have to. I am guilty of not doing this regularly, but it positively impacts my personal life when I do.
- Take care of your physical body. This may not always be easy to do, but drink enough water, eat a balanced diet, exercise, and get enough sleep to function throughout the day. It is hard to overcome burnout if you do not focus on taking care of your physical self.
- Find a fulfilling niche. Changing careers or specialties is not always necessary when you are starting to feel burnt out. Sometimes just finding a place that you love within your specialty can make all the difference. You can choose clinical vs. non-clinical duties or potentially switch from outpatient to inpatient medicine. Find the job and work hours that fit your needs and financial situation. If money is an issue, but you still want to cut back on your hours, find a way to make money on the side doing something you love. Turn your passion into profits!
- Enjoy every moment. Remind yourself why you went into Pediatrics in the first place. My husband believes that my job description as a Pediatrician involves “playing with babies all day.” I have to admit that this is definitely the best part of my day. There is always some joy to be found when children surround you, and it is essential to find even an ounce of that joy every single day.
Medicine is not easy and is not always rewarding. It is easy to get burnt out, even as a Pediatrician. I hope these tips have helped you to recognize a few signs of burnout and will allow you to make changes in your own life if necessary.
Petra McEwan, MD, FAAP, IBCLC, is a practicing Pediatrician and Lactation Consultant in South Florida, where she lives with her husband and five kids. She is also a Women in White Coats Fellow. On her website, https://www.wifeymommydoc.com, she helps working wives and moms balance their many roles. She can be followed on Instagram and Facebook @wifeymommydoc.