Burnout? Try Looking in the Mirror!

Next week in our second-to-last show of our "Best Of" summer season of White Coat, Black Art, we're presenting a rebroadcast of a show we did on the rampant problem of burnout among health professionals. The show airs Wednesday, September 2 at 1 pm (130 pm in parts of Newfoundland and Labrador).

Update: you can also download the podcast.

Recently, I came across an article about physician stress. The article, published in the Canadian Journal of Community Mental Health in the Fall of 2006, presented two surveys on the enormous scale of the problem in this country.

According to researchers, nearly 46% of doctors across Canada and up to 55% in Alberta alone admitted to being in the advanced phase of burnout.

The title of the article certainly caught my eye: "The Pandemic from Within: Two Surveys of Physician Burnout in Canada." Given the ramping up of pandemic preparedness as we brace for a possible "second wave" of swine flu, the title is eerily prescient. For soon, we may be calling on health professionals to work longer and harder treating H1N1 and vaccinating Canadians.

You probably want them to work their butts off to keep us safe. But here's the thing: the docs, nurses and paramedics I know don't need to be asked. In fact, many of them don't know how to say no.

I'm one of the worst offenders. I'm at the end of a month in which I burned the proverbial candle at both ends. I spent nearly 4 days a week working on a new season of White Coat, Black Art. As if that wasn't enough, I also worked more than 100 hours in the Emergency Department at Mount Sinai Hospital, where I've just completed 25 years as an ER doc.

There was no congratulatory reception and certainly no gold watch. Last night I celebrated the milestone by doing a night shift -- one of six this month. And that kind of brings me to my point. I love bringing you glimpses of the world of medicine from an insider's perspective. But everyone has limits. The trick is to know and live according to them.

I'm old enough to know there's no use waiting for someone to tap you on the shoulder and tell you gently to slow down. It's up to you and I to say we've reached our limits.

Our first show of the new season of White Coat, Black Art is all about sleep deprivation among residents who work inhumane hours on call, not to mention those of us who work night shifts in places like the ER or the intensive care unit. Check it out and see if you feel the same way about health professionals who don't know know how to take a break.

Our new season begins Saturday, September 12 at 10 am (1030 am in parts of Newfoundland and Labrador) on CBC Radio One. Enjoy the rest of your summer!

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