Reducing Professional Burnout by Remembering Your True “Why”

Burnout Blog photo

“So there are external drivers that tied my hands and made me feel like I have to choose something other than my patient to put first.” – Wendy Dean

Amidst the turmoil of crises and challenges, it’s vital to take a moment and realign with our purpose. As Simon Sinek explains, recalling our “why” isn’t just a recipe for success; it’s essential to finding happiness. However, for healthcare professionals, reconnecting with our true Why can be challenging.

Alarming rates of physician and nursing burnout: a looming crisis

Physician and nursing burnout remain among the biggest threats to healthcare today. Physicians have a higher rate of suicide than any other profession and nursing turnover is at an all-time high. It is estimated that by 2030, the United States will have a shortage of nearly 150 thousand physicians and 300 thousand nurses. Despite the industry’s best efforts, burnout symptoms persist among physicians, surpassing 60%, with nursing estimates often even higher. Hospitals and healthcare systems have recently rolled out wellness programs, offering incentives to bolster physical and mental well-being. These include counseling sessions and a suite of strategies like mindfulness and yoga. While these initiatives have shown some short-term relief for some, they’ve fallen short of lowering the overall prevalence of burnout.

In 1974, Freudenberg first described burnout in healthcare workers. Later, Christine Maslach developed the Maslach Burnout Scale which is still used today to measure burnout, guiding interventions tailored to its parameters. Yet, after years of dedicating so many resources toward this problem with such limited success, perhaps it is time to reconsider whether the term “burnout” adequately encapsulates the breadth of this complex issue.

Recognizing moral injury: Understanding the impact of conflicting beliefs and values in healthcare

In her pioneering work, Dr. Wendy Dean proposed an alternative perspective: that healthcare workers are grappling not with burnout, but with moral injury. Moral injury arises when individuals are forced to act contrary to their popular beliefs and core values. Today’s healthcare landscape, marked by mounting pressure to see more patients in less time, has fostered a shift from patient-oriented care towards task-driven care. This shift erodes the very fabric of the patient-provider relationship, blurring our purpose as healthcare providers, and causing us to forget why we entered medicine in the first place. This in turn culminates in moral injury.

Differentiating between “what” we do and our true “why”

Reconnecting with our “why” isn’t a straightforward task. While it’s tempting to cite our choice of healthcare as a desire to help people, I argue that helping people is “what” we do and not our ‘why”. Police officers, firefighters, and philanthropists help people, but what sets healthcare apart is the profound connections forged with patients and families. It’s these relationships that define our why. Our true why involves the trusting relationships that we forge with each patient and their families. It is the covenant formed between a doctor and patient that drives our why.

Despite the whirlwind of busy waiting rooms and administrative duties, it’s imperative to cherish those moments of genuine connection. Revisiting our “why” rejuvenates our spirits and leaves us imbued with a sense of fulfillment as we navigate the labyrinth of healthcare challenges.

Here are some tips on how to reduce burnout, wake up inspired, and feel more fulfilled every day.

  1. Remember Your True Why. Our true why is not simply helping people. It centers around the trusting relationships we build with every patient and family. Take a breath before each patient encounter and remind yourself that it is the relationship with patients that we truly cherish. Remember that healthcare works best when there is a human-to-human connection between a patient and his/her patient. Enjoy the time you have with your patient and be patient-oriented instead of task-oriented.
  2. Recognize the inevitable moments in the day when we become task-oriented. Becoming task-oriented happens to every clinician each and every day. The important thing is that we recognize it as soon as it occurs and remind ourselves of our true why. An understanding between team members works best here. Ask team members to remind you when they see you become task-oriented and do the same for them. This promotes a “we are all in this together” atmosphere.
  3. Take a deep breath and focus. Knowing our true “why’ is the human connection with patients that we cherish take a moment before each patient interaction to block outside distractions. Take a deep breath and remember to view the hospital room or office as your oasis from outside distractions. This is another opportunity to remember your “why”
  4. When all else fails ask for help-Although physicians have the highest rate of burnout and suicide of any profession, we are one of the least likely groups to ask for help. Most institutions and hospitals have wellness programs with help that are private and readily available. Getting help early is the key to getting back on track and enjoying this wonderful profession that we chose.

Follow-up Note

The Orsini Way has had the privilege to have spoken with many experts on the Difficult Conversations: Lessons I Learned and an ICU Physician Podcast regarding burnout. Guests like Dr. Dike Drummond and Dr. Robert Pearl join us to discuss the difficult task of learning how to balance the overwhelming need to do it all. Dr. Jonathan Fisher discusses mindfulness with us in an insightful episode as well. Find these and all other show episodes on your favorite podcast platform. Let us know what you think, we would love to hear from you.

Dr. Anthony Orsini

Dr. Anthony Orsini

Dr. Anthony Orsini is a practicing neonatologist and founder of The Orsini Way, a training program that shows healthcare professionals a way to communicate that enhances patient satisfaction and improves outcomes. He is also the author of “It’s All In The Delivery: Improving Healthcare Starting With A Single Conversation” and his podcast: Difficult Conversations – Lessons I Learned an ICU Physician.

Share this post!


Get the latest posts from Dr. Orsini in your Inbox.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.