Beating Burnout: Tips from a Rural Clinical Team


By Corey Martin, MD, and Christy Secor, RN, MSN, Buffalo Hospital

Corey Martin

Physician burnout is a topic increasingly recognized as a problem facing health care, having implications on quality of patient care and quality of life for ourselves and our colleagues. How we approach this as organized medicine, health systems,and individuals is extremely important.

Multiple studies have shown that nearly 50 percent of American physicians experience feelings of emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and decreased job satisfaction. Studies indicate physicians experiencing burnout have decreased levels of professionalism, poorer quality outcomes, and an increased risk for medical errors. Burnout also contributes to strained relationships at work and at home, increased rates of alcohol use, thoughts of suicide, and is leading physicians to leave the workforce at younger ages.

Rates of physician and medical student burnout around the globe are well-documented in the literature. Increased prevalence is seen in highly acute areas such as emergency medicine and intensive care units, while the lowest rates are seen among physicians in pathology and dermatology. The stresses of the population can also impact physicians as demonstrated by a study in which 44 percent of general pediatricians classified themselves as burned out.

As a physician and nurse, we knew this information to be true for ourselves and for our colleagues after working long work weeks and denying ourselves time to care for ourselves and our families. The recent tragic loss of two of our community’s physicians in the prime of their careers caused us to re-evaluate our lives and work schedules. This experience drove one-quarter of our medical staff to attend a Minnesota Hospital Association seminar on physician burnout and resilience.

The strategies presented by Dr. Bryan Sexton were simple…and challenging. We began to recognize our self-care impacted patient care, interactions with others on our health care team, and our families. Time soon revealed it would take more than viewing a few PowerPoint slides to implement this change. For many of us, the timing was right and the support within our teams was present.

One tool was particularly effective. “Three Good Things” asks you to document three good things that happened each day before going to sleep. You identify the emotion you experienced as well as your part in making this “good thing” happen. Studies have shown after completing this task for two weeks, an increase in happiness can be felt for up to six months. Equally as important, the results are just as effective as SSRIs used to treat depression. Our physicians now routinely use this technique personally and recommend it to their families and patients.

This success prompted our physicians to rediscover the joy of medicine by supporting and implementing a new community-wide resilience program called the Bounce Back Project ( This project allows our physicians to be in the community as leaders teaching everyone from the ages of 8 – 108 the importance of kindness, gratitude,and happiness. We are so confident in the value of this program that we are studying our interventions along with Dr. Bryan Sexton of the Duke Patient Safety Center to demonstrate the impact it will have on the happiness, physical well-being and mental well-being of not only our physicians and nursing staff, but our community.

The changes seen in our staff and organization are encouraging. Conversations about resiliency and self-care are slowly becoming a part of the fabric of our culture. This program has made a difference in many people’s lives including this formerly burned out physician and nurse and we are truly grateful. If you would like to learn more about what our community is doing, please feel free to contact us at and

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