3 neurosurgeons describe their tactics to avoid burnout


Three neurosurgeons — Rafe Sales, MD, Mark McLaughlin, MD, and Vivek Deshmukh, MD — discuss their methods for avoiding burnout.

Question: What are your tactics for combating mental fatigue or burnout?

Rafe Sales, MD. Neurosurgeon and co-medical director of the Spine Center at Providence Brain and Spine Institute in Portland (Ore.): The key to avoiding burnout and battling mental fatigue is finding a good work / personal life balance. Finding a way to get away from the hospital and get away from the stress of a busy spine practice can be difficult but is without question the key to avoiding mental fatigue.

I try to leave work stress and issues at the door when I head home, which was difficult in my younger years but has become easier over time. Finding time for your family as well as for yourself is extremely important. Too often we associate our success in life with success at our job, and we as spine providers need to be able to separate the two. Being able to separate my work from my personal life allows me quality time outside of the workplace, which has allowed me to maintain enthusiasm for my practice and avoid mental fatigue.

Mark McLaughlin, MD. Neurosurgeon at Princeton Brain and Spine Care in New Jersey: Athletics has provided me with three safety nets to prevent burnout. First it has blessed me with many close friends — blood brothers — I can lean on in times of need. Second, it has given me a window into the mindset of young athletes today. When I see a 20-year-old elite athlete with a cervical disc herniation, I can offer a Division I college athlete’s perspective. I think it gives me an advantage in helping them weigh treatment options. Knowing firsthand the workouts and stresses they are going to endure helps me guide these patients to their best, most durable option. And third, athletics helped me learn how to lose. Failure is part of our profession too. The more familiar you are with it, the more resilient you can be.

Vivek Deshmukh, MD. Neurosurgeon at The Oregon Clinic in Portland and Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at Providence (Ore.) Brain and Spine Institute: You have to engage in activities that take your mind off of work. For me, this includes personal fitness and spending time with family. If I’m swimming or lifting weights or playing tennis with my son, I am not thinking about work. I get recharged and it allows me to continue to perform at work at a high level. I think burnout is less of a factor if you have greater autonomy and control over your practice and if you find your work intrinsically gratifying.

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