Burnout is real. Optometry burnout is no exception.
You’ve got your optometry diploma in a shiny new frame, mounted on your wall. You’ve got your fancy business card with OD after your name. You are wearing your crisp, clean long lab jacket embroidered with “Dr.” on it.
Congratulations, you are ready to start your career as an optometrist.
I’ve been practicing for 13 years. I’ve worked in private practices, commercial practices, and I teach at Nova Southeastern University. I love what I do and I am a workaholic, but I went through a burnout phase last year. I hit a breaking point. It was the most stressful thing I’ve ever gone through, but I survived, and now I can talk about it.
What is Burnout?
Burnout is the state of mental, physical and emotional exhaustion caused by stress. When you are burned out, you feel helpless, worn out or you don’t even have the energy to care anymore. This can affect your physical health, your quality of work, professional business, and personal relationships.
These are signs you may be close to burnout:
- Every little thing that goes wrong feels devastating.
- Everyone’s little quirks are annoying.
- All your dinner table conversations always start with “Today, I had this crazy patient…”
- You talk to strangers about their glasses and contact lenses.
- You feel unappreciated.
- You are constantly exhausted.
If I could go back and do it all over again, this is what I would do differently.
- Keep things in perspective. Remember, sometimes things go wrong. Your refraction was off by a diopter. OK, re-do the glasses. It’s not the end of the world. The computer goes on the fritz, restart it or call your IT guy. Your tech calls out sick, you are short handed and running behind schedule, apologize to patients for making them wait and move on. When things go wrong, focus on the solution, learn from your mistakes, but don’t let the little things affect you more than they should.
The Dalai Lama said,
“If the problem is fixable, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then worrying about it will not help.”
- Find a balance. You’ve studied and worked hard to get to this point in your new career. It’s something you should be very proud of. But work should only be part of your life, not your entire life. Enjoy activities and hobbies outside of work. See the movie that just came out. Have dinner at the restaurant that everyone is talking about. Take the class that you’ve always wanted to take for fun. Spend time with friends and family. When you are enjoying activities with friends and family, try not to talk about work or patients constantly.
- Make time for you. As healthcare providers, you get used to taking care of other people. You take care of your patients. You take care of your family. You have to take time to take care of yourself also. Spend a few minutes to breathe, enjoy your coffee or take a walk, whatever you need to do. It’s ok to think about yourself. It’s necessary. It doesn’t mean that you are selfish. You can’t continue to take care of everyone else if you neglect your own health.
- Get support. If your schedule really is overwhelming, talk to your employer or your employees and be honest. This one may not be easy at first. But remember, the people you work with should want you to be happy and healthy. They should value what you do and be understanding if something needs to change. And if they aren’t, then be ready to make a change yourself.
- Change something. Even if things are going well, try something new. Add new equipment to the office. Try out a new contact lens. Take on a different role at work. Or if you have to, change your work. Don’t feel obligated to continue down a path that doesn’t make you happy at work. Don’t be afraid to make a change if you need to.
The first step to solving burnout is admitting you are burnt out. Again, this can be harder than it sounds.
After investing so much time, energy and money into our education and careers, no one wants to admit that optometry is not all sunshine and roses. This is especially true when it seems you are successful in your career. But preventing optometry burnout will make you a better doctor, and ensure that you are happier for the entire length of your career.