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Burnout in Mental Health Professionals

Using podcasts to explore more and empower all voices.

Pixabay; used with permission
Source: Pixabay; used with permission

Shrinking Burnout: A New Podcast on Combating Clinician Burnout

One of the first and most memorable lines from the TV medical drama Grey’s Anatomy starts with the chief of surgery’s warning to his new surgical interns: “You will be pushed to the breaking point ... Look around you, say hello to your competition ... How well you play — well that’s up to you." The cowering interns then meet their senior resident, renowned for her callous and stoic attitude, who greets them as “interns, grunts, nobodies, bottom of the food chain.... you work every second night until you drop, and don’t complain!” While these characters are dramatized and fictional, the glorification of hierarchical, militaristic attitudes popularized and celebrated commonly by media is based on a toxic reality.

When we think of medical training and the media, we are often inundated with news stories, TV shows, and movies celebrating the heroism, courage, and infallibility of medical professionals. The reality is in stark contrast to that portrayed by the media.

We as clinicians are indeed fallible and subject to burnout. Even the most resilient physicians fear falling short of the lofty expectations set forth by society and the medical profession itself.

Burnout is certainly not a unique concept and is characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment, as defined by the Maslach Burnout Inventory.

Many hospitals have attempted to mitigate clinician distress by implementing mindfulness activities, wellness initiatives, and access to robust mental health services. Nonetheless, the stigma toward seeking mental health services, fear of failure, and self-perceived inadequacy/weakness often preclude the utilization of these services.

To further the discussion on clinician burnout, we decided to start a podcast to address and appraise complex, systemic contributors to burnout. During this pandemic, many shortcomings within our health care system have been exposed, but these shortcomings are certainly not new or unique.

We created Shrinking Burnout to not only address these issues but to provide clinicians with a safe space and platform to speak candidly (and anonymously) without fear of retaliation from hospital administration. We discuss topics including COVID-19, medical hierarchy, higher administrative burden, disproportionate resource allocation, toxic medical culture, medical-legal liability, moral distress, racism, sexism, harassment, and emotional distress inherent in caring for sick patients.

Our feedback from both listeners and guest speakers has been overwhelmingly positive. Listeners who are medical professionals, especially trainees, have expressed feeling validated and heard. Guest speakers have expressed that maintaining anonymity has been a valuable way to increase transparency without fear of retaliation from hospital administration. And listeners who are not in medicine have expressed feeling surprised and unaware of the degree of current systemic dysfunction. Embracing technology and appreciating new modalities to disseminate information will be critically important as we move forward and seek systemic change.

Listen now:

If you have any questions about Shrinking Burnout or would like to be interviewed on the podcast, please email us. If you're interested in being interviewed, our goal is to protect your right to privacy and anonymity.

This guest blog post was written by Varsha Radhakrishnan, MD and Andrew Wu, MD, psychiatry residents at BIDMC, Harvard Medical School.