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by Jeremy Groves, Consultant in Critical Care

I’ve just listened to the recording of Helgi Johannson’s and Peter Brindley’s talks from the 2016 State of the Art Conference.¹ They were talking about burn-out, or in more positive language, wellbeing. These recordings will be made available in the near future on the SOA website, and we will be highlighting our favourites over the coming year, so look out for them. Burnout was one of the most popular topics at this years’ meeting.

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Helgi expressed the view that we only have a certain number of these conversations in us prior to becoming burnt out

Our speciality, whether we’re doctors, nurses or AHPs, is a stressful one. We deal with medicine at the sharp end. I was particularly struck by Helgi Johannson’s comment about difficult conversations. As I have got older I have found myself becoming less detached and more emotionally involved in them. Helgi commented that we convey tragedies to people and help them with their grief. We also, in my opinion, tend to share in it too and this has the potential to exert its toll on us. Helgi expressed the view that we only have a certain number of these conversations in us prior to becoming burnt out. To mitigate this he suggested that we need to ‘refill our tank’ by looking at the positive aspects of those conversations, in the context of helping the individuals involved, at a difficult time.

I agree with that. You’re better off having your ‘tank’ half full, than half empty too. One thing I find helpful is chatting about the way the conversation went with the nurse who was in the interview with me. Especially so when the families grief has been very overt.

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The critical care physicians rated their burn-out more severely than other specialities

Coincidentally MedScape have just published their annual lifestyle report on Bias and Burnout.² The burnout section, though one needs to bear in mind this is a self-selected and self-reporting group of American physicians, makes for interesting reading. Critical care, urology and emergency medicine physicians reported more burnout (defined as loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism, and a low sense of personal accomplishment) than other specialities. The critical care physicians rated their burn-out more severely than other specialities.

In considering the causes of burnout, bureaucratic issues came top, followed by excess hours and ‘computerisation of practice’. I find that last one interesting. Computers should be making our lives easier, but they can be very frustrating, especially when they run slowly and are counter-intuitive.

So there lots of causes for, and evidence for the risk of, burnout in critical care. Our new President, Gary Masterson, and the ICS Council are aware of this and are going to be making it a priority.

Look out for more on the blog on this in 2017.
1. Available to attendees of SOA 2016 at https://icssoa.wordpress.com/podcasts2016/

2. http://www.medscape.com/features/slideshow/lifestyle/2016/public/overview#page=1

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ICS will be running a Wellbeing seminar 4th September 2017. For more information and registration follow this link: http://bit.ly/2oNhfXp

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