I was recently asked by Dr. Nico Pineda from Chile to provide some advice on a career of emergency medicine. Specifically Nico wanted to know how to avoid burnout. I came up with a top five list. Why five? Because five is my favourite number and I can count to it on one hand. You can watch a YouTube of the Five Tips to Avoid EM Burnout.
1) Don’t Panic: All bleeding stops…eventually. Nobody bleeds forever. This too shall pass. Just deal with the problem, what ever the problem may be. Do your best. This is what you were trained to do. Always remember that as bad as your shift seems the patients with the emergencies are having a worse day than you. No matter what happens during your shift you get to go home at the end of the day. Some of your patients may never go home. So don’t panic.
2) Be Nice: It is so much easier just to be nice to each other. Emergency medicine is a team sport. Everyone is important. All members of the team need to be appreciated. You will work quicker, provide better patient care and have more job satisfaction being nice to everyone. So given the options…smile and always try to be nice.
3) Take Time for Yourself: Have things outside of medicine that keep you grounded and keep you human. For different people it will be different things. Surround yourself in a family of choice. Seek out supportive individuals that you can share your joys and your sorrows. Explore the world of art. There is much beauty to be seen and heard in the world. These non-medical experiences can keep you grounded. If you like to exercise then join a team or workout on your own. Keep your body healthy and fit to help you deal with the stress of emergency medicine. You too are important…so remember, take time for yourself.
4) Avoid Getting Cynical: Seeing people at there worst can lead to a bias opinion of humanity. We have a referral bias and can think people are not very smart, have no coping skills and can’t solve even the simplest of problems. Remember there is a huge denominator of people who are very smart, cope well, can problem solve and are not in the emergency department. We deal with health care problems every day. This might be the person’s first trip to an emergency department. It’s OK to be skeptical but try to avoid becoming cynical.
5) Be Skeptical: To provide your patients with the best emergence care they deserve and expect you must be a critical thinker. Don’t believe everything you hear, see or read. Challenge arguments from authority. Don’t trust the source just because it is published in a prestigious journal. Know your own cognitive biases. Having a skeptical approach will serve you and your patients well. As I always say on the SGEM…Be skeptical of anything you learn, even if you heard it on the Skeptics’ Guide to Emergency Medicine
In the end emergency medicine is a great job. We have the privilege and honor to help people every single day.
I believe we can always do something. It can be as simple as providing some reassurance, alleviate pain and at times, even save a life. What a noble profession.
It reminds me of one of my favourite Walt Witman poems called Oh me! Oh Life. Here are a few lines from the poem:
- “Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring, Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish, The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life? Answer: That you are here—that life exists and identity, That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”