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Writing to Prevent Physician Burnout

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Writing to Prevent Physician Burnout

How can we use writing to prevent physician burnout? There is no doubt that writing is a therapeutic action. Think back to your teenage years when you were full of emotion and angst. If you kept a journal, then you know that getting it all out on paper made you feel better. Of course, most of us had a locked journal to protect our innermost thoughts and feelings from prying eyes in our household.  Your journal was the sounding board and listening ear of a trusted friend. 

brown hand holding a fountain pen about to write on a blank journal page

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Physician burnout is unfortunately prevalent and affects nearly 40% of physicians.  In the Medscape National Physician Burnout and Depression Report 2018, 42% of the 15,000 physicians surveyed reported experiencing burnout.  This report may be an underestimate of the actual number because they are many like myself, who do not recognize their burnout. Part of burnout is feeling powerless and voiceless. Writing allows for expression of thought and catharsis. It is one of the tools for coping and resilience.

Writing Provides Insight

As a survivor of physician burnout, my viewpoint has skewed to looking for ways to achieve wellness and joy. In previous posts, I have shared my experience with burnout and how fitness provided relief during the dark times. Physician burnout is very complicated, personalized, and multifactorial. The tools that helped me may not necessarily help you. But, I am sharing in the hopes that it may.

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How to Use Writing as a Wellness Tool

So I’ve talked a lot about how my fitness helped me to overcome burnout. Assisting others to become fit has allowed me to have an outward focus outside of medicine. This outward focus has come back full circle to enable me to regain my joy for my craft.  Fitness promoted the ignition of happiness and a pathway to resilience.  The other avenue that has been both therapeutic and cathartic is writing. Expressing ideas and thoughts on paper doesn’t require a degree in English or creative writing. The other fantastic thing about writing is that more you do it is the better it becomes.

Remember the diary you kept as a teen? I remember writing down the details of the day and the then essential events of teenage life into a locked diary. Journaling provides the same opportunity in adulthood that your diary did as a teen. Writing your thoughts and feelings down in a journal can be very powerful. When our professional life throws curveballs, adversity, and disappointments expressing thoughts and emotions is key. Journaling provides an outlet for your thoughts and feelings. Simple. Easy. Accessible.

Another option for writing is to collaborate with others to write a book. I never thought this was a possibility until I started networking with other aspiring physician writers. In May 2018, I had the honor of being part of a collaborative with 18 other physicians and one dentist. We wrote the compilation of stories that comprise the book, The Chronicles of Women in White Coats.


Getting your ideas out in the form of a blog is another avenue for release of stress. There are many avenues for getting a post published. You can start your blog or guest post on another’s blog. Some possible platforms on which to get a guest post are KevinMDDoximity, or Medscape. Depending on the type of post you are looking to publish, there are several physician-run blogs that accept guest posts like #SoMeDocs, Women in White Coats and FEMinEM

5 Reasons to Write

  1. Intimacy and availability. A piece of paper, a page in your favorite journal or computer keyboard is always there for you. So if you are a nocturnist like me with odd hours of wakefulness, getting your thoughts out can happen on your schedule. Are you frustrated after a shift at 2 am? No problem. Grab your device or pen and paper and get to writing. Awesome right? Consider that when no listening ear is available, the blank page is welcoming.
  2. Catharsis and insight. There are indeed times when a shift at work is particularly stressful or emotionally taxing. There are also times when obstacles to getting my work done are present. These are frustrating and emotionally charged times for sure. Writing down my feelings not only relieves the burden of internalizing but also, allows for an opportunity for reflection. Mindfulness surrounding an emotionally charged or stressful situation provides a necessary catharsis. When you return to your piece in the future, there is no doubt a great deal of insight in reading your present thoughts and feelings.
  3. Self-empowerment. Journaling can provide a sense of empowerment. Reflecting on your past thoughts can be invigorating. It is a gauge of your progression of opinion and personal development.  Documenting your life experience also provides a visible window into your wisdom. In its raw form, the words you pen when your thoughts are unfiltered and emotion are at full throttle.
  4. Idea-expression. Sitting down and thinking about an idea than writing it down is a fantastic experience. You tend to be very authentic when you do this. When you look back at your prose, it is clear that your emotion led to great ideas and inspiration. The ideas that you write down can be free-form, and the stream of consciousness. This form of writing allows for freedom of thought that captures creativity.
  5. Stress relief.  Pent-up emotion and compartmentalization of stress are not beneficial to the psyche. Sometimes letting it all out, in this case on a blank page, is what the doctor ordered. Offload the stress that burdens you now; you will feel better. Jotting down all the feelings associated with a busy or emotionally draining day can relieve stress in a significant way.

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Writing to prevent physician burnout is a tool in the armory to aid in resilience. For me, focusing on fitness, helping others with their fitness and writing has been key to my recovery. Try getting your thoughts out by journaling, blogging or authoring a book or two. Start simple and watch the miracle unfurl. You will feel better, empowered, less stressed and relieved to have the vehicle of self-expression.

So start writing today.  Share this blog post. Comment below with how you plan to start writing.

Be strong. Be brave. Unleash your greatness.

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Charmaine Gregory

I am a nocturnist Emergency Physician, wife, mom to three vivacious cherubs as well as a greatness and virtual fitness coach. I help busy women like myself reclaim their fitness and wellness mojo and unleash their greatness! Watch my story and get a complimentary health assessment here: My Story If you are like me and have picky eaters in your fold, join my Facebook group, Picky Eaters Strong Mom here: Picky Eater Strong Mom Facebook Group

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