The Problem of Burnout in Medical Students and Junior Doctors

According to the WHO, burnout is a syndrome resulting from chronic unresolved stress. Burnout is a real problem that many people experience, especially those in the medical field beginning from medical students up to medical doctors. Medical students often suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’, which is a feeling of not being good enough and being unsure of their worth. Some might even feel that their universities made a mistake in accepting them because they feel like they don’t belong. With the large amount of materials they have to study,  burnout will definitely kick in sooner or later. 

Medical doctors, especially junior doctors do suffer from burnout as well from their long working hours. Imagine the overwhelming feeling of transitioning from being a student to a junior doctor. Medical school only prepares students in terms of skills and knowledge, when the working life is so much more than that. In this article, we can take a look at the signs of burnout and a few simple ways a medical student or junior doctor can overcome it.

“Burnout is a bone-tired, soul-tired, heart-tired kind of exhaustion.” — J. Pennebaker

The Importance of Recognizing Burnout Patterns

Recognising the pattern of burnout is important so it could be avoided and not spiral into something more serious. Many doctors often suffer from depression due to unbearable stress. Leaving burnout unrecognized, could result in a negative impact on personal developments and job performances. Invariably, this results in low patient satisfaction with their doctor’s performance. While every doctor’s aim is to help their patients get better and live life more healthily, it is also important for doctors to look after themselves. Doctors need healthy minds for quality performance at the workplace

Signs of Burnout in Medical Students and Junior Doctors

The primary sign of burnout would be a feeling of hopelessness or loss of motivation. Although, it is normal to feel demotivated at times as everyone has their bad days, there would be days where you just cannot bring yourself to do anything. But it is not normal if you feel that way continuously. 

Procrastination often comes together with loss of motivation because motivation and discipline are the main ingredients in moving forward. It’s easy to dwell on the feeling of hopelessness, especially in a fast-paced work environment. Everyone is disconnected from each other and focused on getting their job done as soon as possible because they have many other patients to attend to. 

Signs of burnout also include being overwhelmed and irritable. The change from being a full-time student to a full-time doctor is indeed an overwhelming event. It is understandable for one to be irritable from the chronic stress that has been building up for a long period of time. Junior doctors work up to 16 hours per day with only one off day.

This routine will definitely leave them exhausted by the end of the week.

Working in an environment where everyone else is just so focused and good at their job while you are struggling and flooded with emotions is definitely a humbling experience. In a situation like this, it is extremely easy for one to start self-doubting and wondering why they are not as good as their peers. It is also important to note that sometimes people put up walls and will not show their true emotions unless you are close to them. One might also look at you the same way you look at others and wonder how you keep your work-life so balanced.

Ways to Overcome Burnout in Medical Students and Junior Doctors

Where there’s a will there’s a way. This applies to a myriad of things in the medical field including burnout faced by medical students and junior doctors. When it comes to burnout, if one does not find a way to overcome it, it could cause detrimental effects to their mental health. Overcoming burnout is not a one size fits all solution. Some might be enduring burnout over something completely unrelated to academics or work issues.  

“Stress is the trash of modern life. We all generate it, but if you don’t dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake your life.” — Danzae Pace

1. Identifying the cause of the burnout

To come up with a treatment plan, a diagnosis must first be made. In this case, knowing the cause of the burnout would be helpful in overcoming it. According to a final-year medical student from a Malaysian private university, the cause of burnout for students involves trying to make time for themselves.  Sometimes, family expectations and peer pressure could also be the root of burnout in students and junior doctors. Expectations and peer pressure could result in anxiety that would cause them to begin procrastinating instead of completing their tasks. 

2. One way to overcome this is by starting to journal

It is as simple as putting pen to paper and jotting down their daily life events, be it at school or at work. Journaling will help put things into perspective when it comes to productivity. For instance, when you think you had nothing done during the day, when you start journaling,  you’ll find out that you did quite a bit of work.  It might actually make you feel a little better and more motivated to get more work done. 

3. Establishing a routine and sticking to it

 Come up with a routine the night before you start your day. Creating a routine to follow will increase motivation and the feeling of productivity. The routine does not have to be in detail as it will heighten stress and have the opposite effect on burnout. 

Medical students can overcome burnout by participating in relaxing activities such as meeting friends and playing video games.

4. Meditating

Meditation can help in relaxing the troubled mind of a junior doctor and medical student. On occasion, they just need to unwind and relax for a night to be able to pick themselves back up. Meditation will surely help with this. Some would argue that they cannot relax enough to be able to meditate but the truth is, in the age of the internet, you can find resources to help you such as guided meditation videos.

5. Reaching out to professionals

If none of the above helps, medical students and junior doctors facing extreme burnout can reach out to professionals for help or just lean on their support systems such as their family and friends to get a listening ear. There are also many non-profit organizations that are more than willing to help. 

There’s Always a Way Out

Don’t be too hard on yourself, this too shall pass, just like any other hardship faced in life! When things get out of hand, take a step back and remember that it is okay to take a break. At the end of the day taking care of yourself is the biggest favour you could do for yourself. Remember that there’s always a way out in any situation. Just be on the lookout for a way out.

“Take rest. A field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.” – Ovid

This article was written by Adriana Natasya and Thaswinee Rajaeswaran of the International Medical University (IMU), Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur.

To find out more about non-clinical jobs for doctors in Malaysia check out our job vacancy and find inspiration from medical doctors who’ve made a career change in our case studies. Check out Medic Footprints Malaysia , and follow our MF Malaysia Instagram and Facebook pages to stay updated on our events, webinars, job vacancies and more.

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