Letter from the PCN President – Fall 2017

By Gary Clark, MD

Gary Clark, MD

More than half of all physicians in the United States report symptoms of burnout, with neurologists showing a higher-than-average burnout rate among the different medical specialties.

Burnout makes us less effective as physicians, patient advocates, and family members. The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) and the American Academy of Neurology (AAN)have directed significant resources to supporting further studies exploring the context, causes and remedies related to this problem, mindful of the serious consequences of further delay in understanding this significant challenge to the future viability and desirability of pursuing careers in medicine in general, and neurology in particular. Burnout begins in medical school, but far more noticably – and accountably – in residency. There are many tools available to gauge burnout symptoms and risk factors. For example: I think of myself as an upbeat, optimistic person, but when taking the Mayo Clinic Well Being assessment, I scored at high risk for burnout and registered suicidal risks as well. This was not expected, but when reviewing the questions, I began to see where some of the problems take root and grow. We care deeply about our patients, our profession, and our future, but feel less and less empowered to make a difference

in many of those areas. The very same passion that drew us into this field and motivates us to excel and seek or be sought after to take on training and leadership responsibilities and positions may well be the same essential propellent pushing us over the edge, making us most vulnerable to burnout. Once burned out, how do we then mentor effectively or advocate for change? And if we don’t, who will? How well will we recruit for new colleagues or mentor them toward career paths like ours geared toward leadership when more than half of us are burned out?

In this year’s Wednesday afternoon PCN meeting, my colleague at Baylor and fellow member of the PCN Board, Tim Lotze will recap his attendance at a recent ABPN meeting on Neurologist burnout, surveying the various risks, assessments and suggested interventions for this major problem. Given the large body of evidence suggesting this problem begins in residency, it strikes me that the PCN is uniquely situated and morally compelled to be part of the solution.