Burning a little more

“We didn’t burn out, perhaps, by burning a little more.” ~Siddhartha Mukherjee

I’ve been getting close to the edges of physician burnout as a PCP the past few years. Since I plan to continue practicing for several more decades, burnout is something I want to make sure I take steps to avoid.

This is why I found the recent read in the NYT magazine important to pay attention to and take notes on: “For Doctors, Delving Deeper as a Way to Avoid Burnout.”


Mukherjee is the author of one of my favorite medical books from years ago “Emperor of All Maladies.”

Burnout has become a well known problem in medicine. But what is it exactly? There are three main areas:

  1. Emotional exhaustion: Feeling fatigued

  2. Depersonalization: Lacking in empathy

  3. Loss of personal accomplishment: Feeling like nothing is being achieved

Mukherjee then nicely brings in Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” - another of my favorite books. How do we find meaning in our lives?

  1. Purpose: Find purpose in what you do

  2. Mastery: Develop expertise and skills in your area

  3. Autonomy: Get some independence in what you do

Mukherjee concludes that he thinks he (and some of his colleagues) may have avoided burnout through delving deeper into their specific niches — for him, that is as a researcher/writer in the oncology field. He is not doing paperwork and typing notes all day — which is how a lot of my time is spent as a PCP.

He suggests that instead of backing away when we start to experience burnout, what about burning more? Are there ways we can actually deeper into them to find more purpose, mastery, and autonomy?

Write. Research. Create. How can PCPs find ways to do more of this?