Discussing Burnout with Dr. Joel Robinson
by Alexandra Brown.
Q1: Please share a bit about your academic and professional journey and where you are currently practicing?
JR: I attended the University of North Texas in Denton, TX, and worked as a clinical allergy specialist prior to matriculating to medical school. I attended Kent State University College of Podiatric Medicine and am now the Chief Resident at the podiatric residency program at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) Health/ Millcreek Community Hospital. Our program at LECOM offers a free master’s degree, so I am also pursuing my Master’s degree in Medical Education.
Q2: What additional responsibilities are involved in serving as the Chief Resident, in addition to the other responsibilities as a resident?
JR: At our program, my key responsibility is to manage the calendar for my team – that includes the on-call, surgical, and clinical schedules, continuing medical education, and vacation time. At any given time, I’m overseeing the schedules of 9 residents in addition to an average of 2 externs. I’m involved with teaching the externs, supporting my fellow residents, and function as a liaison between the 19 attending physicians and our residency program.
To continue advancing our residency, I promote our program to current podiatric medical students. This includes presenting at the podiatry schools and organizing a week-long Summer Program for rising second-year students, which involves observing surgeries, office visits, and wound clinics, and participating in various workshops.
Q3: With so many responsibilities, how do you manage to balance them while trying to maintain a work/life balance?
JR: Prioritization and scheduling. It’s important to understand each task, what it involves, and its deadline. For example, I set aside time each week to complete my work for the master’s program, and that allows me to stay on top of the work. I also schedule a personal time for a mental break, be it a TV break or exercise, which is critical for self-care.
Part of my role involves delegating and managing others, by utilizing everyone’s skillset to form a high-functioning team. Honestly, you have to delegate or burnout is inevitable. My co-residents have diverse strengths, and we divided responsibilities accordingly. Finally, be realistic with expectations for yourself and others. It’s important for your sanity and job satisfaction.
Q4: There are many definitions of “burnout”, with one from an article in Scientific American succinctly defining it as, “exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy”. Does this resonate with you? Do you feel there’s a higher rate of “burnout” as it relates to healthcare professionals?
JR: As you mentioned, there are many different ways to define “burnout”, and the definition you shared resonates with me. There have been times when I’ve experienced similar symptoms of feeling exhausted and not as efficient. It’s natural to have phases of burnout-like symptoms, and the key step is to recognize that it’s happening. For me personally, I try to step back and look at my responsibilities to see how I can reorganize, reschedule, and regain balance.
There may be a higher rate of burnout in healthcare professionals. Mental health of physicians might be overlooked as we’re so focused on our patients and patients’ health. I’m a huge proponent of mental health awareness and advocacy, so I try to encourage my peers to have an open discussion about mental health. It’s important to look out for signs of burnout among your peers and to support each other. It’s a stressful profession, and to maintain a healthy relationship with your job, adequate self-care and access to mental health support is critical.
Q5: Anecdotally, do you feel certain levels of healthcare providers suffer from burnout more frequently than others?
JR: I don’t know if there’s necessarily higher rates of burnout at the various levels, but the amount of responsibility increases as you ascend in the hierarchy from medical student to attending. “Higher the level, greater the devil” – your role, responsibilities, and expectations are increasing accordingly as you advance. Fortunately, as you progress you’re also learning how to cope and adjust to the additional workload and stressors.
Q6: Do you recommend anything to help prevent burnout?
JR: Personally, it was helpful for me to identify my strengths and weaknesses. You can quickly complete the responsibilities that are your strengths, and that leaves more time to focus on what you identify as opportunity areas. Staying organized is also helpful to managing your workload and responsibilities. If you’re experiencing the warning signs of burnout, you don’t have to be strong and stoic all the time.
I’d encourage students, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, speak honestly and ask for support from superiors. This is not a sign of weakness! In this profession, we are constantly learning and mistakes are expected to a certain extent. Your superiors have likely experienced a similar situation before, and they are happy to share their knowledge with you. I also encourage people to pay it forward: help others by sharing your experience and failures.
Q7: Is there anything you feel needs to be changed at a higher level to prevent burnout for healthcare providers?
JR: I feel it’s a responsibility of everyone in the field to be an advocate for change, especially as you achieve a leadership role. Advocate for your peers and the students that follow. That requires recognizing and addressing opportunity areas, and brainstorming a solution. You have more power than you think, and it’s important for people to advocate for changes, especially if there’s an opportunity to improve the work-life balance of physicians.
Q8: Any advice or parting words for new or incoming podiatric residents?
JR: Residency is another step in your educational journey; you’re preparing to be the best physician you can be. Use the time wisely to learn from your attending physicians, peers, and patients. It’s a time to learn about yourself, your strengths and opportunity areas, and to develop as a professional. Part of involve self-awareness to recognize if you’re feeling the precursor symptoms of burnout. That may require reassessing or restructuring your schedule, but you’re also learning how to cope with the increased workload. With time, you will learn what works for you and what doesn’t.
At the same time, it’s important to enjoy the journey and have fun! Best of luck!
by Alexandra Brown.
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