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What is burnout?
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What is burnout?

According to Christina Maslach, psychology professor and creator of the gold standard for burnout assessments (Maslach Burnout Inventory, or MBI):

“Burnout is a psychological syndrome emerging as a prolonged response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job. The three key dimensions of this response are an overwhelming exhaustionfeelings of cynicism and detachment from the job, and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.”

The American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) takes these three dimensions a bit further (click HERE for the AAPA Burnout Blueprint):

  1. Emotional exhaustion — “represents the individual level of burnout that includes feelings of being overextended and depleted of one’s emotional and physical resources.”
  2. Cynicism — “signifies the interpersonal level of burnout that includes negative or detached responses to various aspects of work.”
  3. Reduced sense of personal accomplishment — “characterizes the self-evaluation of burnout that includes negatively evaluating oneself and feeling dissatisfied due to lack of achievement and productivity on the job.”

According to the AAPA’s Joint Task Force on Burnout: Burnout Fact Sheet“Clinician burnout is related to negative healthcare and personal outcomes, including but not limited to:

  • Increased rates of medical errors or being named in a malpractice suit. 
  • Patient outcomes including healthcare-associated infections.
  • Patient mortality within intensive care, and reduced satisfaction. 
  • Increased healthcare costs and clinician turnover.
  • Alcohol abuse, suicidal ideation, depression and anxiety.”

On the flip side of identifying what burnout is, it’s equally as important to identify what it IS NOT.  First and foremost:  BURNOUT IS NOT YOUR FAULT.  It is not a result of a character flaw, lack of effort or resilience, personal weakness, catalyst for self-loathing, call for 10 more minutes of meditation per day, or inability to “hack it”, and it definitely IS NOT proof that you don’t belong as a PA (aka imposter syndrome).  It is not helpful to assign blame, nor to start down a shame spiral because you find yourself burned out.  It is a temporary state, with multifactorial roots, when the stressors of our professional lives have overpowered our coping mechanisms.  Simply put, it is when your batteries are drained and you are unable to recharge them fast enough to keep up with the demands on your energy (mental, physical, and emotional).


Burnout is also NOT the same as depression.  Despite the fact that both can occur simultaneously, and can overlap in their symptoms, remember that burnout is, according to the ICD-11, an “occupational phenomenon”.  Depression, on the other hand, “extends to social, occupational, and everyday functioning, not just one’s job”, according to THIS article by Psychology Today.  PAs experiencing burnout may think “Work has been brutal, I might need to change jobs soon”, as opposed to PAs experiencing depression, who may think “Life sucks right now, and everyone can see that I’m a failure.”  If your work-related stressors become pervasive throughout other dimensions of your life, and you start to internalize negative feelings against yourself via sweeping generalizations about your character, then you likely have crossed over from burnout to depression, and need to address this STAT.


DISCLAIMERS: 1) The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of my employer. 2) I don’t know what I don’t know, so feel free to message me if you don’t agree with something that you read. 3) I don’t earn any money from the hyperlinks that I’ve included.

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