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4 Step Process to Manage Healthcare Physician Burnout

How to manage healthcare worker burnout
Aashi Arora 23 Aug 2022

What is Workplace Burnout?

Burnout has become such a common term that everyone knows someone who is saying either they or someone they know is experiencing it.

Burnout, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), is a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” WHO further describes the 3 major tell-tale signs of burnout:

  1. Feelings of exhaustion and energy drain
  2. Feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  3. Reduced professional efficacy

Medscape released in its Physician Burnout & Depression Report 2022that 47% of physicians reported burnout, up from 42% the year before. It is a significant issue leading to challenges for not only the physician but entire clinical care teams in the healthcare environment. Physician burnout can lead to other mental health challenges, as well as lead to medical mistakes, poor patient experience, and clinical provider turnover.

I once coached a physician who came to me through his employer due to challenges he was having with his behavior at work. When frustrated in the operating room, he would make a fist that others perceived as showing too much aggression. In meetings, he would sometimes “snap” and catch someone off guard with his tone of voice. And some referring physicians characterized him as “unapproachable” and “difficult” when it came to discussing clinical cases.

When his clinical chief spoke to him about the perceptions around him, he was surprised but not dismissive. He tried to work on improving his behavior, but found that the constructive comments from others continued.

By the time we began working together, he wanted to improve but was at a loss of what else to do. Through coaching, he came to realize the underlying cause to many of his challenges and engaged in my 4 step process to tackle his chronic and unmanageable stress.

Simply put, he engaged in the cycle to DEFINE, ASSESS, PLAN, and ACT.


I start any of my clients that I suspect of burnout with a self-reflective exercise in order to identify what level of burnout they may be experiencing and what could be the triggers for it. Following the WHO model of the symptoms of burnout, I have them review the 3 areas in greater detail.

First, I have the client consider their internal challenges around exhaustion and energy. Some questions I ask include:

How often during a day or a week would you say you feel tired?

Describe the feelings you have when you wake up in the morning. How do they change at different times during the workday?

What is your level of engagement in the work you are doing? What motivates you to keep going?

Second, I have the client consider the behaviors they are projecting to others. Some questions I ask include:

When’s the last time you felt irritated by small problems? What was your body language like?

How would you rate your level of empathy with those you work with? How often do you show negative emotions towards them?

How would your co-workers describe your mood?

Third, I have the client consider their measurement of success in the work they do. Some questions I ask include:

What would you say your productivity level in your job is? What would you hope for it to be at?

How effective do you believe you currently are in the work compared to a year ago? 3-5 years ago? What has changed?

What would you say your confidence level in your ability to do your job is? What would you hope for it to be at?


Following the reflective exercise on trying to identify the areas of the burnout, we look for “triggers” – actions, activities, culture, voices, both internal and external, that may be causing burnout.  Evaluating the triggers helps to focus the client’s attention on small steps that can be taken that have the greatest impact for managing, and eventually overcoming, the burnout.


An individualized plan is then created that involves targeted weekly or bi-weekly steps towards the goal that the burnout is preventing. In the client example above, he eventually identified his main goal as enjoying his work the way he had 5 years prior. We worked together through tactical steps to go through the 3 areas of burnout, identify the triggers, and move forward on planning how to either cope with the triggers or devise ways to eliminate them altogether.


Acting on a plan to manage and overcome burnout takes real commitment. That is the key to success. There has to be a commitment and dedication to action, especially when the work involved may be uncomfortable, scary at times, and full of risk. It’s important to find the deeper goal and stay motivated towards working towards it.

The price of burnout outweighs the risk of tackling it. The process does not have to be daunting and working through challenges around burnout can lead to wellness in several other areas of one’s career and life.

Working with an executive coach can help. Contact me today aashi@iriseexecutivecoaching.com.

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