Translational medicine: A fresh take on how clinicians can battle burnout

We have been facing this provider burnout issue for years. We hear about it constantly, yet in all my years working healthcare, I haven’t seen much change. In fact, I’ve seen the pressure imposed on clinicians escalate – more patients, more documentation, fewer perks. In 2020, 42% of physicians reported feeling burned out. It’s time for a new approach.

In 2020 there were more than 3,000 healthcare technology startups and some of the biggest names in the world have entered the healthcare ring – Amazon, Apple, Salesforce, etc. Finally, these companies and ambitious entrepreneurs are seeing the low-hanging fruit and are looking to pick some from healthcare’s multi-trillion-dollar tree. This is good for the healthcare industry as a whole, for all patients who are sick of healthcare’s numerous faults, and for the clinicians who now have new opportunities to make a positive impact on the industry that we love and love to hate.

Many clinicians have at least toyed with the idea of leaving clinical practice in order to find a better balance in their lives but balked because they’ve only worked clinical jobs. This is myopic — clinicians are underutilized in the business world, especially considering how well clinical skills actually translate to business.

Clinicians are trained to apply esoteric knowledge to real-world problems, sometimes at very high stakes. This skill is not common in most industries but for clinicians, it is required. In business, most people struggle with this skill and end up following orders from those who don’t. If a clinician wants to pivot to using their ability to apply esoteric knowledge to the business world, they can be very successful.

Beyond the high-level application of concepts to the real world, clinicians regularly deal with multiple complex problems every day. How many people in business are dealing with 20+ problems per day? Or talking to that many clients? Very few. Clinicians, depending on their practice, are solving problems continuously throughout their day. The only difference between the problem solving a clinician does and that of someone in business is that the clinician’s decision can sometimes be a matter of life and death.

The problem-solving and multitasking gets incredibly complex and requires delegating tasks in order to get it all done. Delegating work is a practice that improves productivity, empowers others, and leads to an overall more efficient and effective system. Clinicians must learn to delegate early in their careers and get very good at it to function at a high level. This practice is also critical in business, but many people in business struggle to adopt it. For clinicians, delegating is ingrained in us and makes us immediately more efficient and effective than non-clinicians in business.

Keep looking at clinical practice and you will keep seeing more examples of skills that are sought after in business. That old adage about doctors being bad at business is outdated. Today’s clinicians are tech-savvy, quick learners, great communicators, and incredibly effective at leading teams to solve complex problems at high stakes. It’s time for clinicians to scratch that generalization and put their skills to work beyond clinical practice to stave off burnout and help foster technology that will improve healthcare beyond just one patient at a time.

This isn’t to say that clinicians should necessarily leave the medical and healthcare world altogether. But, there is incredible flexibility that comes from working clinically. Many providers do shift work, 7-on-7-off, or have opportunities to schedule patients only on certain days. That leaves lots of time, even for full-time clinicians, to take on a side gig and contract with a company that needs a clinician. Cutting out a few shifts a month or even going part-time will keep clinicians sane, happy, and working to the best of their abilities — it worked for me.

I was working 18 shifts a month in a very busy county hospital’s emergency department. I would lay hands on upwards of 60 patients in a 10 hour day if I worked the triage shift. Around 20 if I was in the back managing the homeless, drunk, overdosed, those suffering seizures, strokes, sepsis and more. As the awful phrase goes in the ED, I was “moving meat”.

Then I discovered a small startup that was building a product that would improve the patient experience and help patients to more easily navigate the healthcare system. The offer was to work 20 hours a month from home when it suited me and an hourly rate that was comparable to my clinical work. What a deal. I cut my clinical hours back and got started.

My work at the new company was fun, intellectual, relatively easy (I wasn’t getting yelled at by drunk patients), and kept my income where I wanted it. Beyond that, it made medicine fun again. I started looking forward to my shifts, eager to get to the hospital and see patients, and less frustrated with all the inefficiencies and bureaucratic hurdles. My burnout was cured.

This method might not solve burnout for the entire clinical community, but it’s an approach that has been overlooked and should be explored by more clinicians. It’s an opportunity to continue clinical work, but keep it balanced with work that is less of a drain and still has the potential to make a positive impact on the world.

Photo: gpointstudio, Getty Images



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