The Art of Beating Burnout

Sunday, May 27, 2018

A UCSF student’s recovery from the depths of burnout resulted in beautiful artistic expression that was featured in Washington, D.C., on May 2, during the National Academy of Medicine showcase on clinician burnout.

“It’s an initiative that is very dear to me, as I had struggled with burnout as an ER RN prior to studying at UCSF,” said Sonia Lai, family nurse practitioner student.

Lai’s drawing, The Red Thread, was among 30 pieces chosen from nationwide entries for the Expressions of Clinician Well-Being gallery. Each submission came from clinicians, patients, loved ones, and organizations working to prevent burnout and promote well-being.

Clinician burnout can have serious, wide-ranging consequences, from reduced job performance and high turnover rates to medical error and even clinician suicide.

Lai said she experienced burnout while caring for underserved populations.

“Sometimes I take my work home and cry because I know a patient received the right prescription for his/her condition, but can't even afford to eat consistently,” Lai said.

“Sometimes I can't sleep because I know another patient’s health won’t improve until they stop working 14 hours a day, but that individual is already living paycheck-to-paycheck with five children to care for.”

Lai was able to recover while surrounded by peers who are just as passionate about protecting vulnerable communities. She discovered that some of these colleagues also experienced “the feelings of hopelessness and despair that comes with trying to provide the best for our patients in the face of trying obstacles.”

She said she found empowerment in dealing with burnout, so she hopes that health care providers can ultimately embrace the discussion rather than hide from it. Clinician well-being improves patient-clinician relationships, and a high-functioning care team.

The National Academy of Medicine, a nonprofit research organization, believes that by investing in the well-being of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, medical trainees, and more, everyone wins.

So the organization called on artists of all stripes to express what clinician burnout and resilience feels like to them. Pieces included visual art, as well as music, creative writing, and spoken word.

“We hope this art will offer an entry point for conversations that can be difficult to have and shed light on the joys and challenges experienced by so many,” states the project website. “It’s time to take care of those who take care of us. Let’s build a better system to help clinicians thrive.”

The project is a part of the National Academy of Medicine’s action collaborative on clinician well-being and resilience, which works to improve understanding and raise the visibility of clinician stress and burnout, and uncover solutions that will improve patient care by caring for the caregiver.