Wellbeing Livecast – Burnout among health professionals

Posted: 27/05/20

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centre for Specialist Psychological Therapies at Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW) has been running wellbeing livecasts.

Each week, staff are invited to join a livecast which covers a specific topic. One of the livecasts, ran by consultant psychiatrist Dr Richard Duggins, covered the theme of burnout.

Richard’s clinical work involves assessing and treating health professionals who have experienced burnout.

“One thing we talk about when looking at burnout among health professionals is the resilience puzzle. Health professionals are known to be highly resilient; they go through long and demanding training, can regularly experience knockbacks and can deal with difficult things on a daily basis.

“There are high rates of psychological ill health among health professionals, for example a female doctor is twice as likely to have depression than the average person and four times more likely to die by suicide. This is where the idea of the resilience puzzle comes in. Health professionals are resilient in many ways but are also prone to high levels of burnout.

“Some signs of burnout can be a loss of a sense of accomplishment at work. People may find work more exhausting and become more robotic as if they’re on autopilot. Another sign can be becoming less empathetic with patients.

“Health professionals often have a similar coping style; they have been trained to keep calm and carry on. They are perceived to be ‘superhuman’ in the amount they can get done and the amount they are seemingly able to cope with. This also links to their personality type. Health professionals are used to striving to deliver a high quality of care for patients and therefore, have high expectations for themselves as well. They can take on too much responsibility and don’t feel it’s appropriate to reach out for help because they have a job to do.

“When burnout or some sort of breakdown occurs it can take people by surprise, even the sufferer. Sometimes it’s only at this stage a health professional will seek help and start to take their own health more seriously. Getting health professionals to concentrate on their own health, not just those of the people they work with, can be the most challenging thing.

“The recovery period for a burnout is usually between two to six months. Most health professionals are keen to get back to work as soon as possible. There is a quick recovery when they engage but it can be hard to get them to engage in the first place.

“Understandably, the potential for burnout is higher due to the current coronavirus pandemic. There are factors people may be experiencing now that are leading to higher levels of stress such as longer and more intensive hours, annual leave may have been cancelled, worries for friends and family, and for those working from home they may find it difficult to switch off and miss the support from their colleagues.

“Organisational culture plays a major part in the wellbeing of staff. It has been found health professionals do better in a culture where colleagues are encouraged to look out for each other. The need for curious colleagues is so important, there’s nothing wrong with relying on others for help.”

You can listen to all of the wellbeing livecasts on our YouTube channel.