5 Ways to Avoid Emergency Department Physician Burnout

If you’ve ever found yourself in an emergency room, you are well aware of the fast-paced and emotionally charged nature of the environment. It should then come as no surprise the high levels of chronic stress faced by the Emergency Department Physicians charged with championing the health of their critical care patients.

With approximately one-third of physicians reportedly experiencing burnout at any given point, emergency department physicians are suffering from the symptoms of burnout more than anyone else within the medical profession.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the effects of this syndrome eventually take a toll on job performance as struggling physicians are more likely to report making medical errors, displaying lower levels of empathy, higher levels of job dissatisfaction and considering earlier retirements.

As the title states, this article will focus on ways to avoid burnout by enumerating 5 alleviating tactics to be used by emergency department physicians.

What Is Physician Burnout?

Burnout syndrome is a psychological state resulting from prolonged exposure to on-the-job stressors. This state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion is most notoriously characterized by feelings of demotivation for work (emotional exhaustion), increased cynicism (depersonalization), and a decreased sense of personal accomplishment.

The lead-up to burnout syndrome is a gradual process that begins when physicians are no longer able to recharge during their time away from the healthcare environment. It is precipitated by feelings of being overwhelmed and an inability to meet the constant professional demands.

The symptoms can be broken down into:

Physical Signs & Symptoms Of Burnout

  • Exhaustion
  • Lowered immunity/Frequent illness
  • Change in sleep & eating patterns
  • Aches & Pains

Emotional Signs & Symptoms Of Burnout

  • Detachment and Isolation
  • Increased Cynicism
  • Increased feelings of failure, self-doubt
  • Loss of motivation

Behavioral Signs & Symptoms Of Burnout

  • Withdrawal
  • Procrastination
  • Self-medication (drugs and alcohol)
  • Anger
  • Truancy

Reasons For Physician Burnout

Physician burnout can be precipitated by a myriad of factors. According to the Happy MD these include, but are not limited to:

  • On-the-job pressures to handle medically complex patients in less time for less money with better outcomes
  • Undefined boundaries between work and life due to lack of training on curbing innate workaholic tendencies
  • Limited leadership training and an automatic reliance on an ineffective form of “Top Down” leadership
  • Constant fear of medical malpractice suits due to a hostile legal environment
  • Continuously shifting organizational structures and ambiguous career path
  • Mounting paperwork to meet numerous documentation requirements etc.

5 Ways To Avoid Physician Burnout


When it comes to ED physician burnout, the culture of medicine may be to blame. Late nights, long hours and continuous performance at one’s mental peak define the field from those early days of seeking acceptance into medical school, vying for competitive residencies and landing impressive fellowships.

What develops is an occupational norm of increasing self-denial of burnout, as physician’s cope with demands by working harder and longer, leading to a vicious downward spiral.

Early recognition of the symptoms of burnout syndrome is the most critical first step in finding ways to prevent its occurrence. Periodic completions of evaluation tools such as Maslach’s Burnout Inventory, a scale that has been in use since the early 1970’s, which enables individuals to develop an awareness by addressing the three dimensions of burnout: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and personal accomplishment.

Through comparison of individual scores to the occupational norms presented in the MBI Manual, this exercise can help people develop an awareness of whether burnout is an issue they need to address, thereby signaling the first step in alleviation.


Meaningful social contact is nature’s stress-relief with a supportive social network being the best inoculation against burnout.

To deal with your professional burnout, turn to other people. One clear cut way recommended by the Happy MD entails identifying an old relationship that needs some TLC, setting up an established time to connect, and following through with that commitment. This person won’t necessarily have the means of “fixing” your stressors, but this time spent with a loved one who actively listens will aid in stress relief.

The Psychiatric Times also recommends intermittent meetings with mentors to discuss perceived barriers to career satisfaction. Connecting with professional organizations can help identify and treat burnout amongst members while building valuable interpersonal relationships, and improving and morale.

Finally, consider social media! While it may seem like an unorthodox destination for support, social media provides a wealth of opportunity to connect with other physicians. On her blog, Dr. Kathy Nieder describes how she renewed her passion for medicine using Twitter.


5 Ways To Avoid Emergency Department Physician Burnout

We all need healthy outlets for stress-relief. Carving out time for activities that help you unwind is an essential component of avoiding burnout. Whether it’s a hobby, a weekly massage or a guilty-pleasure t.v. show, schedule it on your calendar like you would any other meeting or appointment. By consistently prioritizing this downtime, you are laying the foundation for successful work-life balance.

For on-the-job stress, consider taking mindful breaks. This form of self-care has become increasingly more accessible with smartphone apps like Headspace which enables its users to achieve calm in daily 10 minute practices.

If burnout seems inevitable, perhaps you need to take a break to recharge? This may be a good time to go on vacation, use those sick days or ask for a temporary leave-of-absence. Use this extended period of time to focus on activities beyond your daily routine.


This step, as outlined by the Happy MD, details the ways in which your organization can play a major role in lowering your risk of burnout. Discussing strategies in which the organization, administration, and employed medical professionals can coalesce to tackle the load may lead to some necessary fundamental changes.

Suggested tactics include introducing more flexible ways of working such as part-time hours, job sharing and alternate schedules.The American Medical Association, in partnership with Hennepin County Medical Center, have developed the Steps Forward program a practice-based initiative to tackle burnout in healthcare settings.

The American Medical Association, in partnership with Hennepin County Medical Center, have developed the Steps Forward program a practice-based initiative to tackle burnout in healthcare settings.


Perhaps the most readily attainable means of avoiding an element of burnout is making an active effort to reduce and eliminate the direct management of administrative tasks. One such way is to outsource the management of patient payment and documentation to a revenue cycle management partner.

The ever-changing healthcare system and its shift in payment models has made managing the financials and administrative functions of the role confusing at best. Patients often receive care with no personal investment on their part leaving ED Physicians to deal with over a dozen health plans with different formularies and referral and authorization procedures.

These documentation requirements are a constant work overload with implications potentially affecting both hospitals and independent ED groups alike.With DuvaSawko’s Emergency Department Revenue Cycle Management Services, you can all but alleviate many of the stressors that affect ED physicians.

We created our software and Dedicated Account Management team to be attentive to your EM group’s need for prompt reimbursement and detailed and useful reporting, taking excessive workloads related to emergency medicine billing and documentation out of the equation and putting your patients first.


While the work of a medical professional has the social perks of being both personally and professionally fulfilling, it can also emotionally exhausting and stressful. For the last 25 years, studies have estimated an average of 1 in 3 doctors experiencing symptomatic physician burnout on any given office day.

Furthermore, the Journal of the American Medical Association highlights physicians at greater risk of burnout syndrome than members of other professions, with those at the frontline of care experiencing the greatest risk. If not safeguarded against, physician burnout can impede professionalism and quality of care, whilst also introducing adverse personal consequences including broken relationships, problematic alcohol use, and suicidal ideation.

5 suggested ways to avoid Emergency Department Physician burnout include:

  • Periodic evaluations of mental well-being following the guidelines of Maslach’s Burnout Inventory.
  • Building supportive social networks as a buffer against the isolating effects of chronic stress
  • Finding meaningful ways to practice emotional, mental and physical self-care
  • Partnering with the organization to devise useful strategies
  • Eliminating unnecessary administrative functions through the employment of revenue cycle management services such as those offered by DuvaSawko

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