Out of Chaos Comes a Dancing Star – Notes on Professional Burnout
(Review by Professor Dan Ncayiyana)
Chris Ellis. Pp 95. Oasis Open Books. 2014. ISBN 978-0-620- 55803-7
Chris Ellis, the author of this little book, was a family practitioner in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands for many years before going into “semi-retirement”. The older readers of the South African Medical Journal will recall Dr Ellis’ occasional essays, published in the journal in years gone by, in which he shared anecdotes from his medical practice, for their wit and humour. This little book, based on his notes as facilitator at workshops and courses on burnout, mirrors the same style.
Although this booklet is billed as “Notes on Professional Burnout”, the content is in fact much broader, touching on a wide variety of situations that may stand in the way of a fulfilling medical career and can serve to undermine the psychological wellbeing and professional performance of practitioners. The hurdles include loneliness, stress, depression, family and spousal relationships, money issues and so forth. The book further references situations where the doctor may be his or her own worst enemy. These are explored in chapters on the doctor as a patient, the “wounded healer”, the “Mr God Complex”, the angry doctor, the impaired physician and other traits. Other chapters contain quotable passages (or poems) from classical literature, such as the Prayer of St Francis of Assisi.
Burnout may result from long hours and no sleep, poor working conditions, an uncaring hospital administration, “neglect, inefficiency, departmental politics and staff who do not share the same goals”, overwork and demanding patients. One suggested means of escaping burnout is titled “Downshifting, choosing quality of life and voluntary simplicity”, which may involve “accepting a lower level of income and lower level of consumption, resulting in more time with the family and restraint in the use of luxuries”.
This booklet is not a vade mecum on burnout or any of the other personal challenges that may confront doctors in medical practice. It does not pretend to provide answers and solutions. Written in short, one- or two-page chapters, it will serve splendidly as a bedside manual for daily reflection and meditation.