Well-Being//

One Anonymous Doctor Exposes the Reality of Physician Burnout

The Sincerely, X podcast shares the story of an industry in peril.

KATERYNA KON/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images

There are some stories that are difficult to tell publicly, because they are “too sensitive, painful or potentially damaging,” according to Sincerely, X. The podcast, a project from TED and Audible, brings these sorts of ideas out of the shadows and advances difficult conversations — like the one around doctor burnout.

The show has talked to anonymous people ranging from an ex-con to someone who lives with depression and is learning to control it. The first episode of the show, which is especially Thrivey, features an anonymous medical practitioner talking about her experience with burnout.

While anyone can experience burnout and suffer personal, interpersonal, and professional consequences, it can be especially scary for a doctor. As Sincerely, X’s guest explains, burnout can change an empathetic doctor into into a cynical, detached one — and that doctor “is a terrible doctor.” That doctor is one “that kills people,” she says.

Her narrative explores the medical culture that makes burnout “really, really common”: the emphasis on constant self-sacrifice, the grueling hours, and the emphasis on deprivation as proof of commitment. “We train our new doctors to think that it’s the ability and willingness to sacrifice that makes a good doctor, not the actual doctoring skills like kindness and knowledge and empathy,” she says.

As Sincerely X’s guest explains, “There is power in naming burnout — just saying its name out loud. Just like any disease, once you name it, you can begin to see it and understand it, prevent it and maybe fix it.” There is a way to change the culture and produce better, more responsible doctors, and it involves making sure doctors are taking care of themselves as well as their patients.

Listen to her story here to hear more about her vision of what a better medical world might look like.

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