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A six-step plan to help doctors deal with occupational stress

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Dr Santoshkumar Dora, Senior Cardiologist, Asian Heart Institute elaborates on the importance of managing and decreasing stress levels of doctors to prevent burnout and be highly efficient at work

A few factors contributing to a doctor’s stressful life along with an expert plan for stress relief.

All over the world, individuals are generally advised to speak to a doctor when stress-related issues feel too challenging, and rightly so. Doctors are trained to understand the causes and effects of stress which enables them to point us to health resources for stress management. While they may be quite adept at managing their own stress as well, this may not always be the case as the kind of stress doctors face is way beyond the basic run-of-the-mill stress.

A study revealed that, in comparison to the general population, the amount of doctors experiencing ‘above threshold’ levels of stress is 28 per cent out of which 18 per cent experienced this level of stress on the job. Similar studies by international medical associations as well as The Mayo Clinic revealed that doctors on a weekly basis work 10 hours more than the average population. The rates of emotional exhaustion were also seen to be higher at 43 per cent than the general population rate that was 24 per cent. In fact, a Medscape survey also reported that doctors in 26 or 27 specialities rated their burnout levels as a ‘4’ or higher on a 1-7 scale, while nearly 60 per cent of emergency room doctors experienced burnout.

Various factors contribute to stress in the medical profession. Let us delve into identifying the key sources of stress, anxiety, and burnout in doctors:

  • Long working hours: Doctors shifts apart from being lengthy are filled with strenuous activity. While they are always on-call besides being off duty, this could lead to an experience of chronic stress due to the lack of restorative time.
  • High stakes: While in many jobs, a few mistakes are rectifiable, it is not the same in the case of a doctor’s job. Taking into consideration that doctors, though performing superhuman jobs, are also humans; such mistakes are not considered something that patients can let pass. This is why a small margin of error and a high level of consequence for imperfection often leads to heightened stress and anxiety.
  • Expected perfectionism: Taking into consideration the former point, doctors can face a risk of maintaining a perfectionistic attitude which can be damaging in ways that aren’t always recognised.
  • Emotionally draining situations: Doctors constantly face emotionally draining situations which is another factor that puts them under increased risk for burnout. This is especially the case while dealing with patients who may be upset, scared or angry or at times when bad news must be broken to the patients or their family.
  • Lack of choice: Doctors rarely have a choice of a day off in case they’re approaching a state of burnout since they are expected to be present in the service of daily ailing patients.

While we are looking towards expert advise, following are six steps to help doctors deal with occupational stress:

Engage with patients collaboratively: While doctors were expected to have all the answers in the past, the rise of the internet has granted patients with increased information attained by only typing in their symptoms. While such answers received may not be completely accurate, it may create more stress for the doctor. However, since this also shows the willingness of a patient to be a partner in their own care, this must be encouraged with the doctor advising measures to improve health and well-being, while also enlisting the patient’s participation in their own care. This helps get rid of the pressure in the case of both parties. In the long run, it also empowers patients, helping them share some of the burdens of responsibility towards their health.

Minimise stressors when possible: One must understand that not all kind of stress is harmful, but the adding up of stress through the most minuscule factors piling up could lead to an overall stressful condition. These minimal factors could involve instances like losing your car keys, dealing with a messy home or enduring a draining friend. Minimising such stressors whenever possible can leave you with more time and energy to devote to things you enjoy, thus leaving you with more energy to handle the stress you face at work.

Find a supportive network: The right social support helps greatly in dealing with stress. In case of the lack of such support, it is necessary to either find more support or strengthen the relations you already have. Joining a support group or speaking to a therapist can be really helpful for stress management. If talking about the stress or sharing your weakness feels uncomfortable, it is all the more a reason to explore and alter those feelings so you’re able to receive support rather than just giving it.

Accept that mistakes will be made: Mistakes are inevitable, especially due to the fact that a doctor is also a human. A doctor must accept that mistakes can occur no matter how much they are avoided. It is necessary to know that you did your best and then let it go, moving forward and continuing to do your best.

Practice good self-care: While taking care of every other patient, it is also important for a doctor to care for oneself. Failure to care for yourself will result in increased stress, leading to less efficiency in the job. If this hasn’t been happening yet, it is necessary to become ruthless in meeting your own physical needs like that of getting enough sleep and exercise to manage stress. Mastering obstacles that keep you from meeting your self-care goals is the one and only recipe for overall wellness.

Practice meditation: There are various effective ways of meditating that will help in the management of stress. It is important to remember that the best type of meditation is the type that you will be comfortable practising regularly. Meditation as a habit can help you detach from the daily stress around you.

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1 Comment
  1. Bhuvi Kumar says

    All the steps you have mentioned in your blog regarding A six-step plan to help doctors deal with occupational stress is amazing and really helpful. My friend is a doctor and he goes through a lot of stress as the job of a doctor is stressful and your article will definitely help him manage his stress.

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