The best advice for mitigating burnout from 5 spine surgeons

Written by Anuja Vaidya | February 01, 2018 | Print  |

Five spine surgeons share their best practices for keeping burnout at bay.

Ask Spine Surgeons is a weekly series of questions posed to spine surgeons around the country about clinical, business and policy issues affecting spine care. We invite all spine surgeon and specialist responses.


Next week's question: What are some pros and cons of robotic image guidance?


Please send responses to Anuja Vaidya at by Wednesday, Feb. 7, at 5 p.m. CST.


Question: What are the habits you have adopted to avoid physician burnout?


Vladimir Sinkov, MD. Spine Surgeon at New Hampshire Orthopaedic Center (Nashua): The work of a spine surgeon can be very stressful and time consuming. It seems to be getting worse every year, with declining reimbursements, ever-increasing regulatory burdens and the constant threat of a frivolous lawsuit. A surgeon needs to have an opportunity to enjoy life and relax in order to stay productive and sharp mentally.


I do draw pleasure from seeing my patients get better. It is always reassuring to see that effort is worth it and you can make a difference in someone's life. I also try to spend as much time with my wife and children as my schedule allows. I exercise regularly and try to make it fun — the latest is mountain hiking. I enjoy grilling and coming up with my own recipes.


J. Brian Gill, MD. Spine Surgeon at Nebraska Spine Hospital (Omaha): This past year I took up the habit of running half marathons which has been a great stress relief. I stay in shape physically and I get a break mentally. Sometimes, my best thinking comes from doing my long runs. I am planning on doing more half marathons this year.


Ted Choma, MD. Director of the Spine Surgery Division at the University of Missouri School of Medicine (Columbia): Physician burnout is a phenomenon that has become more widely recognized lately, and there is evidence to suggest that it has become more prevalent recently, as well. The reasons for this are not well understood. From conversations that I have had with experts, it seems that physicians need to attend to their physical health, emotional health and financial health as well as practice resilience in order to mitigate the risks of burnout.


I served in the U.S. Army for 14 years and realized then that keeping my body and mind healthy was a must. I'm now retired from the military but maintain that same frame of mind. In fact, I am still a consistent runner. This helps keep my body healthy and gives me alone time to consider the day's events and how I may have dealt with an interaction or situation better. My wife and I try to eat healthy, and we remind each other to find time to socialize with friends and keep in touch with family. Years ago, I set up automatic withdrawals from my paycheck to address retirement and education accounts, which affords me some peace of mind. Finally, when faced with frustrations — such as the EMR, pre-authorizations — I try to remember how lucky I am to be a spine surgeon at a great academic medical center and to be able to help patients feel better and stronger.


Brian R. Gantwerker, MD. Founder of the Craniospinal Center of Los Angeles: What's becoming very clear to me, as I am entering the end of the beginning (and the beginning of the middle) of my career, is that time is not unlimited. Choosing to be more involved with my family rather than working more and trying to make more, cover more hospitals, I have chosen to focus on quality. I am now going to the gym three to four times a week and focusing on leaving work at work. Since gaining experience and confidence, I have found myself worrying a little less and enjoying life more, while not becoming a victim of hubris.


Payam Farjoodi, MD. Orthopedic Spine Surgeon at Spine Health Center at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center (Fountain Valley, Calif.): I have worked on organizing my day to minimize burnout. I try to limit checking email to twice a day and address each email in my inbox rather than put them off. I have become better about delegating tasks to my staff and physician assistant, and I put aside time for must-dos for myself, like reviewing imaging studies and contacting patients. Most importantly, I take time to myself to unwind and take the worries of the day away at the end of my work day.


More articles on spine:
Mount Sinai investigates how a diet impacts back problems: 4 insights
Dr. Adesh Tandon joins UHS Health System in New York — 5 highlights
How corrective surgery affects 10-year postop disc degeneration for scoliosis patients: 5 insights


© Copyright ASC COMMUNICATIONS 2019. Interested in LINKING to or REPRINTING this content? View our policies here.

Top 40 Articles from the Past 6 Months