Stressed Out During the Holidays? Try These Tips to Avoid Burnout

Stress and fatigue caused by working longer hours and inadequate staffing levels can put physicians at risk of burnout and can raise the risk of negative patient outcomes. During the holiday season, physicians may face added stress as employees and colleagues have more personal commitments and practices may be short staffed.

The rate of physician burnout is significant. A study by the Mayo Clinic found that nearly 1 in 2 (45.8 percent) of doctors in the United States have at least one symptom of burnout.1 According to the study, being asked to see more patients, having less time with each patient, and short patient release timelines are major stressors for physicians. Physician burnout can decrease quality of care, increase risk of errors, push physicians into early retirement, and cause problems in physicians’ personal lives.

In 2010, The Doctors Company began tracking human factors as risk management issues and evaluated the influence of human factors in 862 closed liability cases. Of those cases, 114 (13 percent) included at least one human factor issue. Within those 114 cases, 14 percent dealt with conditions affecting the provider, including fatigue, physical or mental impairment, distractions, multitasking, or interruptions.

Stress management skills are not traditionally part of medical school curriculum. Most healthcare professionals are taught to put their heads down and persevere. At a time when medical professionals are increasingly in demand, as millions of patients become newly insured, practices should consider steps to prevent physician burnout and stress.

Consider these tips to help reduce stress, especially around high-stress times such as the holidays:

  • Ensure adequate staffing levels on holidays and night shifts.
  • Monitor staff schedules and curtail hours as needed to prevent undue fatigue.
  • Call in additional physicians and staff to combat fatigue and stress.
  • Provide an environment that supports staff members so that they feel comfortable expressing concerns about their stress level and ability to function effectively.
  • Allow staff members to express concerns to each other if they identify signs of fatigue or stress in their colleagues.
  • Encourage all staff members to take 20-minute meal breaks and to get fresh air to clear their minds at least once per shift.
  • Have regular one-on-one and group meetings with staff to learn their thoughts on how to make things run more smoothly.
  • Encourage physicians and staff to put their focus on things they can change, not things they have no control over.


1. Shanafelt TD, Boone S, Tan L, et al. Burnout and Satisfaction With Work-Life Balance Among US Physicians Relative to the General US Population. Arch Intern Med.2012;172(18):1-9.

The guidelines suggested here are not rules, do not constitute legal advice, and do not ensure a successful outcome. The ultimate decision regarding the appropriateness of any treatment must be made by each healthcare provider in light of all circumstances prevailing in the individual situation and in accordance with the laws of the jurisdiction in which the care is rendered.


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