By: Ryan Kelly & Rob Humbracht
Are you a boiled frog?
Imagine a pot filled with cold water, with a frog peacefully swimming in it. A fire is lit under the pot and the water becomes lukewarm. The frog finds this rather pleasant and keeps swimming, but then the temperature keeps rising. As the water turns hotter, the frog grows uncomfortable, but it also becomes weak, so it stands the heat as long as it can and does nothing.
You can probably guess what happens to our poor, weakened frog. The temperature will keep rising until the moment when it’s simply cooked to death.
But what if it had been plunged into the pot halfway through boiling? The frog could have recognized the intense heat and given a powerful push with its legs to extract itself.
That’s how burnout works. As a pre-med, you become so entrenched in your many obligations and activities that you lose sight of your own well-being. When things get “warmer than desired” (and you realize the problem), it might be too late to escape.
Pre-meds know all about boiled frogs, and they might have even seen fellow pre-meds boiled alive. But they trust in their own ability to withstand the heat, to keep swimming, to somehow find extra strength in their frog legs. Plus, all around them, they see dozens and dozens of frogs swimming in boiling water, who seem to be surviving just fine, or maybe even thriving! If those other frogs can do it, then so can they. They will refuse to be cooked alive, but they will also refuse to be known as the frog who abandoned the pot.
Thankfully, the burnout problem for medical students and physicians has gotten more attention in recent years. In a 2010 JAMA study, more than half of responding medical students from multiple schools self-reported burnout. Research over the last few years revealed that unrelenting job pressures cause two-thirds of fully trained doctors to experience the emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion of burnout. Burned-out healthcare workers are at higher risk for substance abuse, lying, cheating, and even suicide. They tend to make more errors and lose their sense of empathy for others. And they are more prone to leave clinical practice.
These findings might be depressing, but publicly recognizing these problems means that they can be anticipated and mitigated.
Our quiz will help you gauge your level of burnout. We hope that it serves as wake-up call so that you take steps to reduce the stress and burnout in your life. After all, no one wants to be that frog.