Dr. Joseph Sirven: I Can't Wait For Self-Driving Cars

Published: Friday, July 7, 2017 - 8:52am
Updated: Friday, July 7, 2017 - 9:24am
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Dr. Joseph Sirven
Dr. Joseph Sirven

Could self-driving cars solve career burnout? Our medical commentator Dr. Joseph Sirven weighs in.

One morning after an exhausting sleepless week of on-call duty, I got up to go to work in the early morning hours.  I got dressed, got into the car and waited — and waited some more — and a few moments later, my wife was knocking at the car window and asking, “What are you doing?”

I looked up and realized that I had been sitting in the backseat of the car the whole time as though my magical driver would transport me. I realized then it was time for a break. 

Now imagine that feeling everyday and sadly, that is a glimpse of what is happening to medical professionals. Regardless if you’re a nurse, technician or doctor, burnout is real and increasingly widespread. 

How common is this? According to a 2017 survey by Kronos Inc., 63 percent of American nurses report work burnout. More recently, a study on burnout by the American Academy of Neurologists involving 4,000 American neurologists — one of the largest surveys for any specialty — was published. The researchers found that 60 percent of neurologists reported having at least one symptom of burnout. 

Neurologists are not alone. In 2012, an American Medical Association survey of 7,288 physicians found that 45 percent of all doctors exhibited at least one symptom of burnout. Factors included long work hours, caring for large number of patients without support and loss of autonomy. Loss of autonomy is the biggest driver of neurology burnout as most of these specialists are now hospital based employees as opposed to practicing independently.

So how does this affect me as a patient? Burnt-out physicians are much more likely to make errors and lack empathy when caring for patients. Because most physicians and nurses do care about their patients, many simply just leave the profession. This only exacerbates the problem because there’s already a huge shortage of physicians and nurses.  

There is hope. Resilience training that includes mindfulness techniques and similar tools, as well as redesigning healthcare systems so that doctors and nurses actually practice their craft make a difference. 

As for me, my solution was to take a vacation and recharge myself with the hope that maybe self-driving cars will drive me to work one day after those busy on-call weeks.

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