What is Burnout?

December 11, 2017
What is Burnout? Photo by Bethany Legg on Unsplash

I work in the health care profession where a lot of attention is being focused on Wellness and Burnout.

Wellness is the complex and multifaceted nature of physical, mental, and emotional health and wellbeing. Wellness includes being challenged, thriving, and achieving success in various aspects of personal and professional life (Wallace et al., 2009).

On the opposite end of the spectrum from wellness is burnout. Burnout is a psychological syndrome that includes emotional exhaustion, a sense of disconnectedness or going through the motions, and a reduced sense of personal empowerment or accomplishment.

In health care, physician and nursing burnout is a significant problem that can contribute to job and career turnover, reduced workplace productivity, and decreased quality of patient care (Wallace, 2009) and is around 50% with physicians in practice (Dyrbye 2014). Burnout is not limited to people in caring professions. It can occur in any occupation. In the studies of the prevalence of burnout, it was found that burnout rates for non-physician population based controls were near 30% (Dyrbye 2014).

Burnout isn’t something that changes quickly, but often requires significant time or a change in circumstances to alleviate. Over the past several years there has been a lot of interest in finding interventions that can prevent or relieve burnout. There is strong evidence supporting the use of mindfulness based group interventions to decrease burnout, decrease stress, and enhance engagement and sense of meaning at work. (Krasner et al., 2009, West 2014).


Take a look at your own situation, at work and at home. How fulfilled do you feel? How stressed? Where do you fall on the spectrum of burnout and wellness, and in which direction are you headed? In workshops I lead for health care professionals we all create a “self care plan” that includes specific, concrete commitments that we are willing to make to help us shift from burnout towards wellness. Can you think of one or two steps are you willing to make today?