Begin Your Journey: Looking within yourself in addressing burnout


"The world has a way of sending you the same message until you get it, and burnout is the same way. It's going to keep coming at you until you acknowledge it," says Anne M. Suskind, MD, MS, FACS, FPMRS.

In this installment of “Begin Your Journey,” host Scott A. MacDiarmid, MD, FRCPSC, and Anne M. Suskind, MD, MS, FACS, FPMRS, discuss looking within yourself when fighting burnout. MacDiarmid is a urologist with Alliance Urology Specialists in Greensboro, North Carolina. Suskind is an associate professor of urology; obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive services, associate chair of faculty affairs and diversity, equity, and inclusion, and chief of neurourology and female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery at the University of California, San Francisco.


MacDiarmid: I think with all the stressors outside of work just in general, I think we've reached a breaking point. There are just too many stressors every day for most people to handle. Do you think we're taking it serious enough?

Suskind: That's a good question. I think it's certainly getting more attention than it ever has before, and I think that that's a good first step. I think we have to call it out and name it and in a way, not normalize it, but make sure everybody knows's okay that you're feeling that way. I think a lot of people feel shame. They don't want to reach out; they don't know who to reach out to for help. They don't know what resources there are; they blame themselves. I think the more conversations that we have, the more we talk about it, I think that certainly is an essential first step,

MacDiarmid: I'm going to move us along just because I want to get to some of your solutions. We all want the system to change, but waiting for the system to change I don't think is a great strategy. The person you look at in the mirror, I think has the greatest chance of helping you as a person today, short and long term. When you're trying to change a system and you're not able to, it made me bitter and resentful. I remember when you said this to me, you said "Scott, you miss all those opportunities to grow as a person," almost like in a Christian way, and not just to adopt as a physician, but even in all life domains. You can be a better father or parent or friend and maybe learn how to adapt to some of the stressors at work.

Suskind: This is, I think, one of the original conversations that you and I had and connected on because I do share that view. And I think that isn't to say, don't be a change agent. That's not saying that at all. But it's recognizing that there are some areas that you can change and go ahead and do that. And then there's some things that you're just not going to be able to change, and you are going to burn yourself out by trying to change. And that is not helpful. It doesn't help the system, it doesn't help you, and you're going to just hurt yourself overall. So I just want to make that distinction; I'm not saying don't try to change the system or make it better. But there's that distinction there. I think this is where a lot of us lose our way in burnout, because we miss that opportunity. I give a talk that's titled "Make burnout work for you." And that's really how I look at it is like burnout is this sign that something isn't working for you. And it is an opportunity to make some changes that you can make. I have a friend who gives this great TED talk on burnout. She has 3 pitfalls of burnout. I love to repeat them because I think they're super helpful. Her name is Anna Choi. One of the pitfalls of burnout is treating the symptoms, but not the source. If you're fatigued and [then you] get rest, you're treating the symptoms, but you're not really addressing what is the cause of those symptoms. It is important to take care of yourself and to treat the symptoms and to nurture yourself, but you also have to examine what is causing that, what is the source of this, to make some real changes. And often, there's a misalignment between what you feel you want to be doing and your passion and what you are doing, so [it's about] recognizing what is there for you. Another pitfall is suppressing it. I really feel that the more you push things away, the stronger they come back at you. The world has a way of sending you the same message until you get it, and burnout is the same way. It's going to keep coming at you until you acknowledge it. Don't try to push it away. It's okay. It happens to almost all of us at some point in our lives, and it's a sign that you can have an opportunity to make some changes. And then finally, looking inside yourself for the solution and not outside of yourself. So often, we think that somebody else has the answers; we turn to different things. This is where people turn sometimes to alcohol or substance abuse. There are so many distractions, [such as] social media, turning to things that [can] take you away from looking inside of yourself. That's not where any of the answers are really going to be. It's good to talk to people; it's good to reach out for resources, get tools, but ultimately, we need to look inside ourselves to find the answers that are going to get us out of these areas. Those are those are some of the things that I think are important to consider when addressing burnout, and really trying to just use it as a tool as much as you can and not treat it as something bad or that you want to push away. Invite it in, look at it, acknowledge that it's there and see what wisdom there is for you and what it can teach you in terms of what changes you can make to get yourself out of it.

This transcription was edited for clarity.

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