The term is everywhere: burnout. We see it screaming from headlines, we read about it in our medical literature, and we see it when we open our social media accounts. According to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, the definition of burnout is “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.” Signs of burnout include insomnia, chronic fatigue, difficulty concentrating, apathy, irritability, and anxiety.
Although burnout is not recognized as a distinct mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), several recent studies have described burnout among nurse practitioners (NPs), physician assistants (PAs), and physicians. The American Academy of PAs 2021 Conference, held May 23 to 26, had 2 posters about burnout among New York State frontline workers and PA leaders.
Workplace burnout has been recognized by the World Health Organization in its International Classification of Diseases 11th Revision (ICD-11). However, what I think most of us are experiencing is pandemic burnout. We have been living in a state of fear, anxiety, and loss. Fear of the virus, for our loved ones, for the world. We have lost friends, colleagues, and our freedom to go about our lives as usual. As the pandemic ebbed and then roared back again and again, the collective fear has been replaced by fatigue, malaise, and lethargy.
With summer approaching, we all need to recognize the chronic stress we have been working and living under. With the warmer weather, longer days, and more people becoming vaccinated, we are beginning to venture out, take longer walks, plan vacations, and feel the hope of life returning to “normal.”
As part of my recovery from burnout, I am focusing on gratitude. I am grateful for my health, my family, my job, and the light at the end of the tunnel. My son, a high school teacher, is excited for in-person classes in the fall and my youngest is excited for a return to a more “normal” college experience. Let us recognize the collective burnout we have experienced and be kind to ourselves, our patients, our families, and our neighbors.
Nikki Kean, Director
The Clinical Advisor