H E A L T H A L L I E S SERIES: 3
Prevent Physician Burnout
A new study measuring burnout
at three time points – 2011,
2014 and 2017 - has found
between 43% and 54% of U.S.
physicians suffer from physician
burnout. Yes, you read that right.
Approximately half of us are experiencing
burnout on any given practice day.
In previous articles in this series on physician
burnout, we learned that burnout occurs
when our mental, physical, or spiritual energy
accounts have a low balance over time. To
prevent burnout, we have two options:
1) Decrease our energy expenditures
by reducing stress (see article two in this
2) Increase our energy deposits by
finding ways to recharge and create more
balance in our lives.
In this article, we will discuss the latter,
specifically four tools for creating work-life
To implement the tools effectively, it
is important to understand that work-life
balance is not a “problem.” Problems have
solutions, but there is no simple, one-step
solution to work-life balance. Instead, worklife
balance is a dilemma. It is something
you must attend to regularly using a multipart
strategy. If you are not paying attention
to it at least twice a month, you will be out
of balance very quickly. For many of us, this
tendency to be out of balance began as
early as our premed days.
The reason work and life seem in direct
conflict so often is simple. The time and
energy required for each comes out of
the same pie. Each must take from the
other because the pie is finite. Managing
this give and take is an ongoing process,
but the tools presented in this article can
make it easier. We’ll get to those in a minute,
but first let’s address a gorilla.
THE 800-POUND GORILLA
Imagine for a moment that you live with
14 DALLAS MEDICAL JOURNAL • June 2020
an 800-pound, silverback lowland gorilla in
your house. This is a wild gorilla. He is not
a circus animal and doesn’t know a single
trick. Imagine how much of your house this
gorilla would leave for you and your family.
You would be relegated to just the outside
edges of each room and he would make a
mess wherever and whenever he wanted to.
Here is the metaphor. Your choice to be
a physician created this gorilla.
The gorilla is your career.
The house is your life.
Without strong boundaries and good balance
habits, your career will tend to crowd
out your life, leaving you just scraps and
making messes at the most inopportune
times. The career that was supposed to
enable an extraordinary life now dominates
the house, leaving little room for anyone or
By the way, here are two very important
questions to contemplate:
Whose gorilla is this?
Who else has to live with this gorilla?
All is not lost. Gorillas can be housetrained,
tamed, and shown healthy
boundaries. It is your job to do this for your
family. It will take a strategy to manage
this balancing act. Here are four tools that
have been field tested and found effective.
These are the first life-balance techniques
I teach all of my coaching clients.
THE SCHEDULE HACK
One of the laws of your work-life balance
strategy is “the strongest structure wins.”
By “structure” I mean the calendar you are
probably carrying on you right now.
If I asked you to hand me your calendar,
what would I find on it? It would have your
work and call schedule for sure. What else
is on your calendar right now? Would I find
any of the following?
• Your spouse or significant other’s
• Your children’s schedule?
• Your workout schedule?
• Your next date night?
• Your next vacation?
• Some blocked-off free time for yourself
to be with friends, take a walk, hike, bike
ride, take a yoga or cooking class, nap, or
read a book for pleasure (heavens, just
imagine that for a moment, will you)?
If you have all of those on the calendar
you carry at work, congratulations. Take
a moment to pat yourself on the back,
because I have never seen it happen – and
I have asked thousands of doctors what is
on their calendar.
Understand this as an actual law of life
balance. Anything not on the calendar you
are carrying is not going to happen, period.
One of the keys to taming the gorilla is
to carry your Life Calendar with you at all
By Dike Drummond, MD, CEO