Causes of Burnout

While doctor burnout was assumed to result from chronic occupational stress, there is evidence that it also related to our personal life-style.  In other words, while the sources of stress are external, how we respond to them reflects our internal, personal makeup.

Robert Wicks has listed a number of causes of burnout and divides them into external and internal causes. If you are a physician or surgeon who is “burned out” look at this carefully. While some of the stress from external factors may be less amenable to change, you can change some of these internal factors. 

Coaching can help doctors prevent  burnout by developing a more healthy lifestyle and improved work-life balance.


Overstimulation or isolation and alienation

Lack of  freedom or power to deal with regularly occurring stressful events.

Seeing money wasted on projects that seem to have no relation to helping people or improving  health care

Working with people who are burned out. 

Powerlessness to effect change

Overwhelmed by paperwork and administrative tasks.

Lack of appreciation by superiors, colleagues and those we are trying to help

Inadequate positive feedback on efforts made

Sexism, ageism, racism, or other prejudice directly experienced in our lives and work.

High conflict at home or in the work environment.


Failure to curb the immature reasons we have for helping others  or develop more mature ones.

Savior complex— inability to  recognize what we can and cannot  do

Inadequate quiet time-physical rest, cultural diversion,education  and persona replenishment.

Vague criteria for success.

Guilt over failures or taking out time to nurture oneself properly or deal with  own legitimate needs. 

Unrealistic ideals that are  threatening rather than motivating.

Inability to deal with anger or  interpersonal tensions.

Need to be liked by others and unrealistic involvement with others. 

Neglect of needs - emotional, physical, and spiritual.

Poor community life  

Unrealistic expectations and needs surrounding the support and love of others for us

modified from Wicks, Robert J. (2007) The Resilient Clinician. Oxford University Press


Shanafelt, T. D. T., Boone, S. S., Tan, L. L., Dyrbye, L. N. L., Sotile, W. W., Satele, D. D., et al. (2012). Burnout and satisfaction with work-life balance among US physicians relative to the general US population. Arch Intern Med, 172(18), 1377–1385.  (Available on line but if you cannot download we jave archived here).


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