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J. Bryan Sexton, Ph.D.

Burnout is real – and it can be managed, starting with just a few minutes a day.
As part of an overall strategy to enhance professional well-being and restore joy to the practice of medicine, Lancaster General Health Physicians invited J. Bryan Sexton, Ph.D., Director of the Duke University Patient Safety Center, to speak at its recent Town Hall meeting.

Dr. Sexton presented “Thriving vs. Surviving During Times of Change: The Science of Enhancing Resilience.”
Here are some of the top takeaways from his presentation:

  • People tend to think that no one else is experiencing burnout. But studies show it affects 30 to 40 percent of physicians and 34 percent of nurses.

  • Having to do more with less is the new normal. When demands go up and resources go down, that creates strain. The longer we have to sustain that strain, the more burnout increases.

  • People with tenacity, dedication and a strong sense of responsibility are vulnerable to burnout. They think they will make a difference if they just work harder. In reality, setting better boundaries leads to better outcomes.

  • Burnout is a social contagion, but so is resilience. Being around others who are struggling can cause you to sink. This is a normal reaction to the suffering of others. Being around people who are positive can pull you up.

  • Burnout is associated with lower patient satisfaction, more infections and medication errors, and higher standardized mortality ratios. It is also associated with a shorter lifespan, lower quality of personal relationships, decreased immune system function, personal injury and traffic accidents, as well as depression and suicide.

  • Burnout “lead weights” include work hours, night shifts, conflicts with colleagues, fiscal debt and poor boundaries between work and home.

  • Burnout “band-aids” include spending time with spouse, social support, a positive learning environment, having a clinician as a parent, being a parent, getting satisfaction from conversations with others, control over days off and quality of working relationships.

  • Your focus determines your reality, and your perceptions are influenced by how you feel. When you are so focused on the negative, you can’t pause and appreciate when things are going well. This impaired ability to experience positive emotion is the definition of burnout.

  • Positive emotions enhance resilience by undoing the negative around you and allowing you to see what else might go right. When you’re burned out, it’s harder to experience and savor these emotions. Meaningful, high-quality connections with others are the key to enhancing positive emotions.

  • It’s not “perfection” or the magnitude of positive emotions that matter. The frequency of access to little doses of positive emotion makes a difference in your resilience and ability to deal with stress.

  • You can protect yourself from negativity and experience more positive emotions by noticing and savoring three good things that happen each day. To join Duke’s next “Three Good Things” study, text the message @3wiser to 73940. You’ll receive a link to the study, which is open to anyone 18 or older who works in health care.

  • Leaders also can spread positivity by making a meeting agenda item of discussing one good thing that has happened so far this week and practicing “positive rounding,” or asking about what is going well in each work setting.

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