The majority of doctors are experiencing some degree of burnout. I'll touch very briefly on the causes here, since these are not the focus of this post. Causes include:
1) Factors inherent to the practice of medicine - the incredible stress of bearing responsibility for other people's lives.
2) The traditional medical culture, which is not a gentle one.
3) Internal causes stemming from each person's unique history and psychological make up.
4) Lastly in this brief (and not comprehensive) list, but in my opinion THE major cause of burnout, is the current atmosphere in the so-called 'healthcare industry' in which the traditional physician patient relationship has been assaulted, perhaps to the point of no return, and the internal sense of mission which led doctors to choose this profession has been quashed with the stomping boots of corporate culture at its very worst. Physicians are beaten down and micromanaged by business people. They spend most of their time as data entry clerks, while still bearing the full responsibility of a doctor. They're treated as replaceable cogs. They have lost their professional autonomy and their sense of purpose.
Burnout is therefore endemic in the physician population. In addition, doctors, like all people, can suffer from depression and other common conditions. Yet I often hear how doctors won't go to talk to someone. It seems that there are two major reasons.
ONE: "I am not weak"
One is a perception that seeking help is an admission of weakness. Doctors need to tough it up, don't they?
I find that absurd. Psychological stuff is not something that happens to 'others' or to weak people. It's normal. N-O-R-M-A-L. Unless you're a robot. You have a psyche and stuff happens in it. There's turbulence. This is life.
We all need to work on our psychological health (a term I prefer to 'mental health' or any other such terms), just as we work on our physical health, and in fact we do, all the time, all our lives. Much of this work is an ongoing process which you do on your own without even realizing it. The most common forms of this are mulling things over in your head, and talking to others, often in the form of venting. The former can get you out of bad spots, but can also leave you trapped in loops that go nowhere. The latter provides a release valve and a decrease in the intensity of emotions, but carries certain risks for doctors in hostile work environments.
Then there are all the other methods to relieve stress, some healthier than others - exercise, time outdoors, Netflix (seven seasons of Gilmore girls!) and so on.
When these are not enough, why not talk to someone outside your life who can help you sort things out? Since when has increased understanding (insight) lessened anyone? How is discussing something in private anything but dignified?
It can seem hard to let your guard down when all day long at work you're 'it'. This is one reason I think it better that doctors see psychiatrists or PhD psychologists and not random therapists, unless there is a specific issue, such as marital counseling, for which other professions might just be better suited. Consider that the doctor in the other chair is not your better, and you are not the lesser one. Two people, that's all.
TWO: "It will end my career"
I've heard this myth propagated among doctors: if they go see a therapist or psychiatrist their career will be over. This is for the most part fear mongering. Psychiatrists are not in the habit of calling up medical boards for a chit chat. Nor do they have impromptu discussions with your employers. If anything, many psychiatrists are so secretive (about the general population, not even about doctors) that other doctors complain they can't get any information from them. I do not know where doctors get this notion that talking to a psychiatrist will end your career. NO ONE WILL KNOW.
There are some rare exceptions. While serious mental illness is rare among doctors, there are certain conditions which can impair you at times to such an extent that you could be a danger to patients. The most common one is probably substance abuse. I do not treat addictions myself, that's perhaps a whole other ballgame. Who will know and who will out you about impairment, substance induced or other? Your workplace, or you yourself if you want to be pre-emptive and fair towards patients. It would be exceedingly rare for a psychiatrist to need to make that call! I have never needed to, not ever, and I suspect the same is true for most psychiatrists.
If you're stressed, burnt out, depressed, etc., you're the bread and butter of the psychotherapeutic psychiatrist's practice and if you're a physician with burnout you're probably at the high end of functioning in their office. To think that you would be reported for this to anyone is ridiculous. It's kinda crazy, actually!
What about those license renewal forms? I do recall hearing once about some state, I don't remember which one, that asked if you've ever been in treatment. With possibly that one exception, license renewal forms ask if you're IMPAIRED. There is no reason for the overwhelming majority of doctors to ever answer yes. There are some extreme conditions that would affect your judgment to the point where you're a danger to patients. This is RARE. This does not apply to run of the mill depressed, stressed, burnt out doctors. This is highly unlikely to be YOU.
It is important not to get tangled up in workplace hostilities, because they can use flimsy mental health excuses as a weapon, and once targeted, you can't win. So unless you truly are impaired, and they are in the right to protect patients from you, then talking to someone will help you avert this disaster. You will strengthen your capacity to smile and nod and exit the bad situation gracefully.
In other words, not only does seeking help for burnout not end your career, it will help you avoid situations where someone else ends it for you.
For the utmost privacy, I would advise doctors to see a cash only psychiatrist, and one who's psychotherapeutically inclined (an admittedly shrinking population). <--- Note bad pun there.
In medicine you do often times need to be an oak, but tend to yourself before you crack and you'll live to see many more seasons.