Overcoming Burnout

Just came across this article on the challenging environment of medical training, and how it can lead to physician suicide.  The article mentions new research that strengthens earlier findings in these areas, but I find the article’s greatest value in detailing some of the problems trainees are likely to experience.

For example, the article chronicles the competitive nature of medical training, and how this makes it hard to ask for help:

Given that students must compete with one another throughout medical school for postgraduate training positions, many have a difficult time admitting to any perceived weakness. For those who do and want help, there are more obstacles: with the sense that peers, faculty members and others are likely to judge distressed students as less competent, it is nearly impossible to find somewhere truly safe to turn.

While the researchers, and article, do not offer much hope for those who are struggling, as Christians God has given us everything we need to thrive.  The answers are rarely simple or easily-implemented, but the general contours of a way forward are there.

Consider how the gospel transforms the challenge of competition mentioned above, for instance.  Instead of competing with your peers, Christ tells us that, “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.” (Col. 3:23-24).

So what difference does it make?  Everything, actually!  Look at all the hope contained in these two short verses –

  • work at it with all your heart. The call here is to do your personal best, not do whatever it takes to beat everyone else.  The result may or may not be better than someone else’s, but that’s up to the Lord.
  • as working for the Lord, not for men. It’s easy to focus on pleasing your professors, boss, or attending, but Christ calls you to work for Him.  His patience and grace help protect us from burnout and depression.
  • since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.   The “inheritance” is an allusion to the land inheritance that Israelites received, which itself was a (albeit imperfect) picture of heaven and salvation.  When you go about your training or profession in God’s way, He delights to reward you, and far better than anyone here ever could.

Much more could be said, of course.  The main point is that, despite the very real challenges that come with healthcare training, there is practical, moment-by-moment hope in following Christ.  If you’re feeling depressed or burnt out, it doesn’t have to stay that way.  The key is to find someone who can help you connect the rich resources of the Christian faith to your specific situation.

So, let’s make this more specific.  Who can you ask to come alongside you on the journey?  And, when will you ask them?  May God keep you encouraged as you follow Him in healing others.


About Bryan Stoudt

On my personal website (bryanstoudt.com), I help Christians follow Jesus in a noisy, broken world. I also have the privilege of helping Philadelphia's healthcare students and professionals do this as Area Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA). More information at cmdaphiladelphia.org. On a personal note, I'm fortunate to be married to my wonderful wife, Sharon. Together, we have four fantastic children. In my spare time, I enjoy roasting coffee, running, reading and learning foreign languages.
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