physician doing paperwork

Taking Breaks from Clinical Care to Avoid Physician Burnout

With approximately one-third of physicians reporting burnout at any given point, healthcare HR departments and physicians alike are seeking ways to alleviate the problem. Education and prevention strategies have proven helpful, but for more immediate relief from physician burnout, you may want to try taking regular breaks from clinical care, say experts.


“Like everyone, physicians need time to take a breath and recharge,” says Tom Florence, senior vice president of recruiting at Merritt Hawkins. “Taking regular vacation days to focus on paperwork instead of their patients allows doctors to return to patients with increased resilience to manage the issues they bring with compassion and enthusiasm.”

Focusing on Paperwork Instead of Patients

You don’t even need to take actual vacation days—you can still go into the office specifically to read journals, research ways to improve your practice, and catch up on paperwork. The point is to take a little break from your constant stream of patients.

Learning to Say No When Necessary

Family Practice physician Janet Gourley, M.D., says she’s currently fighting burnout but clinical care breaks are helping her stay one step ahead.

“Here’s what I’ve been doing to stay on the winning side,” says Gourley, “One: scheduling at least one ‘breather’ appointment a day where I can catch up on paperwork, etc. so I don’t feel like I’m always behind. Two: my new motto is, ‘Say yes to health,’ which means I say no a lot more than I used to. Three: after a very serious illness that resulted from not doing the above, I came to the conclusion that if I wanted to continue serving my fellow man I’d better take care of myself first or there would be nothing left, literally, of me. So far, it’s working!”

Finding Balance in a Busy Schedule

But in a high-pressure work environment, it’s sometimes hard to put your own needs first, as a physician.

“Saying ‘no’ to requests can sometimes leave physicians feeling like they’re coming up short, says Sean Ebner, President of Staff Care, an AMN Healthcare company. “But saying ‘no’ is a strategy that can have a very profound impact for you because it frees up time in your busy schedule, allowing you to reallocate it to activities that give you greater work-life balance.”

Things like exercise, preparing and/or eating nutritious foods, and taking advantage of stress-reducing practices like meditation can go a long way towards helping you feel balanced, experts say.

In the interim, though, if you’re starting to feel stressed out on the job, a clinical care break might be just what the doctor ordered.

Has this strategy worked for you in the past? We’d love to hear your comments and suggestions below.

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