By Ian G. Whipple, OD
June 7, 2023
Burnout is defined as the following by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ): “The healthcare environment—with its packed work days, demanding pace, time pressures, and emotional intensity—can put physicians and other clinicians at high risk for burnout. Burnout is a long-term stress reaction marked by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a lack of sense of personal accomplishment.
The AHRQ goes on to note: “In recent years, the rising prevalence of burnout among clinicians (over 50 percent in some studies) has led to questions on how it affects access to care, patient safety, and care quality. Burned-out doctors are more likely to leave practice, which reduces patients’ access to and continuity of care. Burnout can also threaten patient safety and care quality when depersonalization leads to poor interactions with patients and when burned-out physicians suffer from impaired attention, memory, and executive function.”
I have seen the burnout of colleague optometrists and have witnessed the burnout of a family member who is an allied health professional (not an optometrist). Burnout happens when our practice owns us rather than the other way around. I have repeatedly written about working on our practices rather than just in our practices. Here are strategies that have helped me stay in control of my practice and able to better manage my stress.
My focus has shifted dramatically over the years from hiring experience to hiring potential. Some candidates for employment with previous experience also have previous baggage from prior jobs in the optical industry. I recognize that exceptions exist, but I have not been successful in retaining employees with prior optical experience. I have found greater value in hiring amazing people who want to be in my offices and are fun to work with, whom patients genuinely enjoy interacting with. I can train skills when I have amazing people like this.
Our staff loves being involved in the hiring experience. They genuinely want to know how a potential new hire will interact with the current team.
We all know colleagues who are handing out Oscars and Emmys to their employees for the drama they bring to the office. Our practice is not immune to intra-office drama, but when we have amazing people, who want to be here and genuinely want to contribute to the team, the intra-personal issues become rare.
Patients feel our camaraderie, and frequently remark that our employees are often laughing together and enjoying being here. Profitability impacts of better managing burnout by having a great team may be difficult to gauge in dollars and cents, but anecdotally, we seem to realize better sales days when we have super-happy and energetic employees.
I spend as much time with my work team as I do with my own family most weeks. It’s essential to be surrounded by people you like. When our staff is aligned by the common goal of improving our patients’ lives, my risk of burnout feels reduced.
Get World-Class Education
One of the best ways for me to reduce feelings of burnout is to participate in top-quality continuing education events. Often these events present the truly latest and greatest of our profession. They help me view mega-trends in optometry and help me prepare for changes that are inevitably coming our way. Optometry continues to change. ODs should be the catalyst for change, (rather than outside entities like insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies or other vendors.) We know our profession best and we know what it takes to deliver the best care to our patients. World-class CE events help me to remain in control of my practice by challenging my current standard of care.
Optimizing the value of these events requires preparation and often a significant cost. There is a tremendous value in these events, however. I’m always more engaged and excited about events that I know cost me in travel and registration fees and lost revenue from being away from my practice.
I typically attend these events alone. I enjoy meeting new colleagues and love to share best practices with them while at these events. The networking opportunities at national and international events is unparalleled.
Other Articles to Explore
My staff always knows when I have a CE event coming up. They sense my excitement and I love sharing findings with them upon my return. There is a 100 percent direct correlation to improved patient care and improved patient experience when I return and implement ideas learned at these meetings.
For example, I attended an event around 10 years ago in which the lecturer showed video and shared advice on how to place an amniotic membrane on an eye. He also shared examples of informed consent forms, in addition to explaining the background science of the procedure. I remember thinking, “that sounds easy” and I purchased my first membrane immediately upon return to the office. That procedure has helped countless patients and allows me to bill for additional services.
Simply attending CE is not enough. Implementation of what we learn at these events is essential to make changes that improve care and profitability. These events also can act as a vacation, or at least a timeout from my practice, allowing me to reevaluate how things are going. Additionally, the time away from my practice allows me to challenge my goals and current career satisfaction levels. I’m writing this just before attending the Vision Source Exchange in San Antonio this year, and I’m nearly pinching myself with excitement about seeing old friends, meeting new people and learning about top vendor offerings.
Implementing New Procedures & Techniques in My Office
This goal goes hand-in-hand with obtaining the education necessary to offer new services in the clinic. Sometimes we just need to do it. Over the past few years I successfully implemented Botox injections, intense pulsed light treatment, lump/bump removals and serum tears (including in-office blood draw). Each of these new services challenges me to get out of my comfort zone, and not just learn, but implement, something new. This helps prevent burnout by keeping me interested and engaged in my work.
My technicians have responded well to the implementation of new techniques. One of my technicians was a phlebotomist prior to her employment with us. She loves that she gets to maintain her skills when she draws blood for serum tears. I genuinely enjoy my work in the lab while I dilute and filter the plasma during the creation of serum tears. This is one example of a new service that breaks my day up, keeping away feelings of burnout.
I have always enjoyed the challenge of continual professional growth and development. I couldn’t sleep due to excitement on the night before my first lump/bump removal. Some of these procedures are still rare in my office, so they haven’t yet become “routine” for me. That challenge keeps me on my toes.
Patients love that they don’t have to be referred out for some of these new procedures. We’re able to add on Botox injections at the end of a comprehensive eye exam, for example, saving the patient time and effort in scheduling somewhere else.
These procedures have also improved our profitability. I can easily schedule some of these procedures, which demand more doctor time, on one of my professional development days (administrative days) without increasing the workload of my opticians and other office staff. Any revenue collected from these procedures increases our efficiency in collections per hour.
I challenge any doctor who hasn’t implemented a new service in a while to look for an easy-win technique that will help patients, increase your professional satisfaction and build your practice’s profitability. Scope of practice for optometrists differs state-by-state, so some of what I do you may not be permitted to do yet in your office. However, I’m sure there are new, transformative procedures waiting to be implemented in every office. The personal reward of implementing these new services will pay off for both patients and practice and help reduce feelings of burnout.