In addition to emotional exhaustion and depersonalization, not having a sense of personal accomplishment is the third symptom of burnout. This sense of efficacy brings about a feeling of fulfillment from one’s work. Am I making a difference? Does what I do even matter? Am I achieving what I want to in my career? Do I have a positive impact in my work environment?
This feeling of personal accomplishment can potentially restore balance when a healthcare worker is already feeling burned out from compassion fatigue, emotional exhaustion, and cynicism. I was fortunate last year to still believe I was making a difference in the lives of my patients and my co-workers. The few moments of connection, no matter how brief and how much the personal protective equipment created a barrier, or how much the anxiety and stress permeated the workplace, were enough. I could still find brief respites from the doom and gloom of the pandemic, in my daily interactions with patients and colleagues. There was still hope I would make it, that burnout would not crush me, and that I could continue to show up every day and be a competent physician.
Burnout and its components are more than just a subjective feeling. There is a way to measure it as well as a way to see which of the three symptoms are affecting you the most. It is measured by a scale called The Maslach Burnout Inventory. When I took the test last summer, I scored very high in emotional exhaustion, moderately high in depersonalization, and low in the professional accomplishment questions. Taking this inventory helped me to understand and put into words what I was subjectivity experiencing. Burnout was more than just me feeling energetically tapped out.
Take the test, see where you land. Try not to be discouraged as the experience of burnout can and will change. Then, keep coming back here in the new year to learn strategies to treat and prevent burnout. I know they work because I have bounced back. And while it’s true there are so many things in the healthcare environment that we have absolutely no control over and have a large impact on our experience of burnout, there are things we can do. As individuals in the system, we do have a responsibility to take care of ourselves.