I recently had an opportunity to interview Tom Murphy, MD, the author of Physician Burnout: A Guide to Reconciliation and Recovery.
- Tom, how did you get interested in physician burnout?
I first became interested in physician burn out when I experienced it myself. It seems like just yesterday that I had at in a posh auditorium in Chicago as an enthusiastic young adult during my first day of medical school orientation at Northwestern in 1995. Eighteen years later I was a forty-three-year-old burned out physician, practicing in Boise, Idaho, doing Google searches on the most effective way to end my life. During my time of maximum burnout, I observed that I was becoming the type of physician that I never wanted to be. I was impatient and sarcastic. Occasionally, I was dismissive of my patients. I was making caustic jokes about some patients in the lunchroom. I was not happy. I realized I had to make changes, not only for myself, but for my patients and my family as well.
- How large of a problem is physician burnout?
As I learned about the problem of physician burnout, I came to recognize I was not alone. After I began researching the topic in greater depth, I realized burnout is not some psychological abnormality to be embarrassed to speak about in public—quite the contrary. For example, survey results in the past five years show 87% of American physicians experience symptoms of burnout. On the extreme spectrum, female physicians have a successful suicide rate of 250 to 400% higher than their counterparts in the general population. Something very alarming is going on in the American healthcare system nowadays. Doctors aren’t happy and neither are patients. The proverbial admonition “Happy doctors make for happy patients” comes to mind with the caveat that the reverse is also true.
- Who does burnout effect?
Burnout impacts not only the physician experiencing the problem, but also their families. It has dramatic implications for the patients the burned out physician treats. Increasing time constraints, burgeoning bureaucracy, increased patient expectations, and technological advances have made this challenging, stressful profession even more so. In fact, given the current state and the demands of the American healthcare system, I have realized burnout is an almost inevitable response. Something needs to be done about it!
- Tell me a little bit about your book.
I wrote a book entitled Physician Burnout: A Guide to Recognition and Recovery to help physicians, their family members, their patients and hospital organizations realize the scope of the problem and to provide prescriptive solutions that can help physicians experiencing symptoms of job burnout. I have gotten back into medicine and I love it. I am practicing in a way where I have rediscovered my own personal joy for medicine. My life is better and my family is so much happier.
- How else are you helping physicians deal with burnout?
I have started a website: tommurphymd.com for physicians and family members dealing with physician burnout. I also have started a support group for physicians locally in the Boise area. I have began several mentoring relationships with physicians experiencing burnout and have begun to speak on the topic. It has been a privilege speaking with physicians as well as hospital administrators, medical students and residents about the importance of physician burnout. I have conducted several interviews, including one locally with NPR, and I hope my book will serve as a constructive way of reaching physicians and spouses going through this problem. Finally, I have begun to consult with hospital systems about this issue.
Steve: Physician burnout is a huge problem in the medical community now and SEAK has been a tremendous resource for physicians who are unhappy with the career path they have been on. I am invigorated and excited, realizing we are still only in the iterative phase of developing treatment solutions for this problem. I have found profound meaning in helping physicians navigate through this crisis and if a physician or one of their family members reading this wants to contact me, I encourage them to do so through my website: Tommurphymd.com