Video Transcript: How Do You Avoid Burnout in Serving Underserved Patients?

Nia Zalamea, MD, FACS, General Surgeon, Church Health Center

Burnout to me is really defined as kind of losing a sense of hope in the work that we do, whether it’s professional work or outside-of-work work.

I think that there are avenues to be able to help counteract some of the things that promote burnout. Providing structure to our professional lives is really important. Allowing ourselves to experience the joys and the challenges.

Sometimes we forget to experience the joy. We forget to remind ourselves of all the good stories, the cures, the getting a job after a colectomy, going to school and graduating after having a hernia surgery. We forget about that stuff because that’s what we expect all the time, we just expect those good outcomes, and we are only really affected emotionally when we have negative ones.

I think the opposite needs to happen. I think we need to really reflect on that and say, “You know what, I remember this gentleman. He did this and look at him now, and I was honored to be a part of that rehabilitation for him to get on to the other side of the operation.” Being intentional about that, whether it’s journaling or just going through [cases]. I record my outcomes, and I have a database and so that is very informative for me both in the joys and challenges.

And then I think the other aspect of it is to remember why. The why behind what we do. For me, my decision was really based on mission work, on going overseas and really doing the work, and it’s continually fed and supported by my faith.

Not everyone is in that situation. For others it’s maybe a humanitarian or social justice issue, whatever it is, whether it’s a passage from a Jon Sobrino book or if it’s a Don Berwick quote or if it’s liberation theology and Father [Gustavo] Gutierrez. I believe those thing are planted in our lives. They’re what kept us actually interested in the beginning.

And I think that if we continually circle and refuel ourselves with those then that will help us, that’s the fuel that allows us to propel forward and continue in the path. I know I saw burnout in the traditional practice — I saw that with my colleagues.

I’ve definitely seen it in the area I am now, but I am continuously surprised and continually motivated by the fact that the why behind our work is what makes us even stronger in the area of the underserved. It’s a matter of being intentional, of refueling and refreshing and also just being in community with other people who care about those things.