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Take, Take, Take - When Cardiac Surgery Consumes Your Life:         Advice on how to combat burnout in a demanding career.

Posted by Liza Szelkowski, PA-C on Aug 17, 2016 4:01:37 PM

It’s 0630.  I’ve only been at work for 15 minutes, and I’m barely awake enough to interact with society yet.  That being said, I’ve already fielded 3 questions from nurses who have poked their heads into my office looking for guidance, taken a call from an angry surgeon looking for a delinquent discharge summary, rid the office of several days of old patient lists and other trash, and restocked the coffee machine.  I haven’t even changed into my scrubs yet.  Working as a cardiac surgery PA in a busy practice can be extremely demanding, to say the least.  I’m the biggest offender when it comes to taking on too much, trying to please everyone, trying to save everyone, and just generally making myself crazy being all things to all people.  There are days when I feel like I just can’t do it anymore.  Yet I know I will never be happy doing anything other than cardiac surgery.  This predicament prompted me to reflect on the reasons why we get burned out and, possibly, what we can do to limit that.

Leave work at work

When I have a great day, I come home in a great mood.  When I have a horrible day, I come home in a horrible mood.  I continue to brood over who made me mad, mistakes I may have made, or whatever else didn’t go my way that day.  This is obviously an unhealthy practice.  Our family members need not suffer for the things that have happened to us at work.  When you walk in the door, make a promise to yourself that you won’t think about work related issues that evening.  If you continue to constantly give to your job, you have nothing left to give to your family.  All of your work related issues will still be waiting for you when you get back tomorrow.

Don’t forget that every patient is someone’s family member

There are days when difficult and demanding patients are completely consuming.  It is very easy to want to avoid these patients by not spending as much time in the room, or as much time trying to sort through all his or her medical problems.  But there is something that I began to realize several years ago, and it is something that didn’t occur to me when I started practicing at the young age of 25.  This patient is not a patient to his or her family members.  This patient is actually someone’s mother, or father, or grandparent or sibling.  I think about how I would want my mother to be treated if she were a patient.  This always makes me put everything into perspective, forget about any difficult interactions, and give each patient my best care, no matter what.

Teach others

It may sound counterintuitive, but using your skills as a cardiac surgery PA to teach or help others in the field can be very rewarding.  I was fortunate enough to get a job doing consulting work to help other cardiac surgery practices with education, or protocol development.  Since we do our job every day, it’s easy to forget how much knowledge we have accumulated over the years, and how much it can help others to pass that knowledge on. 

Remember that you can’t change patients, surgeons, or colleagues

I hold high standards for myself and others, and people often fail to meet my expectations.  I often fail to meet my own expectations.  It is important to remember that not everybody thinks like you do.  Surgeons will continue to underappreciate our efforts, patients will not listen to our warnings, and colleagues will continue to do things that you will disagree with.  You will continue to do things that your colleagues disagree with.  A lot of energy is wasted on things that can’t be changed, and once you realize that, maybe you will stop beating your head against the wall trying to get everyone to see things your way.  Many of us are strong personalities, and we wouldn’t be good at our job if we weren’t.  The key is to refocus this energy where it is needed – taking care of our patients and maybe, once in a while, taking care of ourselves as well.

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Topics: CVT Surgery