Dealing with Burnout

Updated: Oct 10, 2018

Burnout can be defined as a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion as a result of chronic stress. It is characterised by feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, cynicism and anger. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose interest and motivation, reducing your productivity in the long run as well as depleting your energy. The impact of the burnout is widespread and can infiltrate many aspects of your life e.g. relationships, outcomes, health etc. By recognising the signs of burnout and developing preventative techniques as well as ways to overcome it, we can possibly reduce the incidence of such in the long run. 

Medical school is an extremely competitive, challenging environment. The constant pressure and high expectations from those around you can quickly become overwhelming. From academic pressures and educational debt, to personal life events, learning environment and exposure to human suffering, contribute to heightened levels of stress and poor mental health in medical students.

According to research conducted by Cecil et al, more than half of the participants (undergraduate medical students) (54.8%) reported experiencing high levels of Emotional Exhaustion, 34% reported high levels of Depersonalisation and 46.6% reported low levels of Personal Achievement. Overall, 26.7% of participants met the criteria to be considered ‘burned out’.

As doctors and healthcare professionals the constant weight of responsibility, pressure to see a high volume of patients and the vast amount of rules and regulations one is forced to keep up with can negatively impact ones well-being. Being a doctor is certainly a great privilege, but it is also an enormous tax on the emotions and the high stress nature of the job makes doctors particularly susceptible to burnout.

Doctors experiencing burnout are reported to be at a higher risk of making poor decisions; display hostile attitude toward patients; make more medical errors; and have difficult relationships with co-workers. Burnout among doctors also increases risk of depression; anxiety; sleep disturbances; fatigue; alcohol and drug misuse; marital dysfunction; premature retirement and perhaps most seriously suicide.


Burnout has a way of gradually creeping up on you, it’s easy to ignore the subtle initial symptoms however as they progressively worsen, the impact can be detrimental and the sooner they are addressed the better. If you pay attention and act to reduce your stress, you can prevent a major breakdown. Common signs of burnout include:

  • Chronic exhaustion

  • Cynical

  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness

  • Loss of motivation

  • Detachment

  • Isolation

  • Avoidance

  • Lethargy

  • Making of mistakes frequently