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Burning out? Ask a loved one

How does a physician know when he or she is approaching the ‘red zone’ for burnout or compassion fatigue? Francoise Mathieu, a certified mental health counsellor and compassion fatigue specialist and director of WHP-Workshops based in Kingston, ON, has a simple answer:  “Go ask your loved ones.”

Speaking Sunday at an education session presented by the Canadian Medical Foundation (CMF) as part of the Canadian Medical Association annual meeting, Mathieu told more than 50 physicians in attendance that while work-related stress can happen to anyone it’s well known that physicians are among the most vulnerable groups.

It can affect not only work satisfaction and effectiveness but also how the doctor interacts with friends and family, she said.  Personally, Mathieu said she knew she was approaching burnout when a family member who saw her in a work-related environment commented that she was nicer when working than at home.

Three ways physicians can attempt to alleviate burnout and compassion fatigue identified by Mathieu are:

  • seek out training to help recognize and assist patients with the kinds of trauma and other difficulties they encounter daily, to develop personal resiliency
  • focus on “spheres where you have some influence” to make choices that will help you gain some control on working conditions and level of exposure to trauma
  • select and develop practices that will help with your own well-being, and seek help before you’re in crisis

One online tool that can help doctors to discreetly determine their own levels of burnout, and compassion fatigue and compassion satisfaction is www.proqol.org.

A follow-up presentation – by Mathieu – Navigating the high-stress, high-conflict workplace – is featured Monday during a CMF-sponsored luncheon.

Forward any comments about this article to: cmanews@cma.ca.