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Healthcare professionals staying balanced, fighting burnout

Healthcare professionals know better than anyone that life can be stressful. Balancing the demands of work, family and community life can at times be daunting, but it can be done.

Dr. Eric Lindstrom, president of the Mississippi State Medical Association (MSMA), says managing his time effectively is important for him to maintain that crucial balance.

“Being able to keep up with my practice and do things like I’ve done this year as president can be a challenge,” he said. “The legislative session was a strain because I had to be in Jackson a lot. Often we had to re-schedule patients, and that’s tricky. I’ve been working Saturdays, which I haven’t done in a long time.”

A Laurel ophthalmologist for more than 30 years, Lindstrom says he doesn’t have medical emergencies or have patients dying on him as some physicians do. Still, he feels demands on his time and efforts. He is committed to exercise and enjoys flying his airplane because these things take his mind off work. He also loves to ski and goes on skiing trips with his family, and is involved in his church — all things that help him cope with a busy life.

“I think doing something totally different from professional duties is the key to keeping a good balance,” he said. “For me, it’s singing in a men’s gospel quartet. It’s a wonderful thing and different from what I do every day.”

For Paula Ward, the past year and a half have brought a double dip of stress. Hurricane Katrina forced her to leave New Orleans where her home was spared, but the Tenet Hospital where she worked was destroyed and did not re-open. She felt fortunate to go to work at Wesley Medical Center in Hattiesburg as director of laboratory services just as her extended paychecks from New Orleans were ending.

“Coming to Hattiesburg was more like coming home. We had talked about it before Katrina,” she said. “I grew up in Stringer, Miss., and went to school at the University of Southern Mississippi.”

Ward has 35 people working for her in the Wesley lab, cares for her elderly mother, and is re-modeling a home in Hattiesburg. Her husband recently stopped his daily commute to New Orleans and found employment in Hattiesburg, too.

“Our priorities are changing, and we’ve re-evaluated what’s important to us,” she says. “Sometimes I say that my life is like trying to pin Jell-O to the wall, and I have to talk to myself and re-group.”

Ward considers herself a well-organized person and likes setting priorities to help her know what she needs to accomplish to be happy. “Sometimes I leave myself out and I get burned out,” she said. “When that happens, I must renew my spirit and energy.”

Relaxation helps, too, and for that she likes to play the piano and read. However, reading is currently taking a back seat to decorating her new home.

The president-elect of MSMA, Dr. Dwalia S. South, is a firm believer in avoiding physician burnout. A family practitioner in Ripley, she says the phenomenon is commonplace but often ignored.

“If burnout simply killed us that would be one thing. We’d be dead and done with it,” she says. “But, far worse than that, it can make your life as a physician a hell on earth. There is so much more to be lost than just your life.”
South says there is much to lose from burnout. “Unacknowledged and untreated burnout can cost us our relationships with colleagues and partners in business, friends and family and that wonderful soul mate that is your spouse,” she said. “It impairs the physician-patient relationship tremendously, and you can lose the very thing that enables you to make a livelihood — your license to practice medicine.”
She feels that the more advanced healthcare technology becomes the less in touch physicians are with patients and themselves. “Modern-day medicine has been relegated to the role of a commodity, to be haggled over, bought, sold and dispensed by the cheapest and fastest ‘provider’ in the area, the lowest bidder if you will,” she said.
As part of a busy practice in a rural part of the state, South has developed ways to maintain balance in her life and fight burnout. She shares these with her fellow healthcare professionals.
“We all must hold steadfast to each other and help our brother physicians,” she said. “And, we have to learn to rest. That is so hard for us because we all think we’re Supermen, but even Superman had kryptonite to watch out for. And, even the Great Physician did not feel the need to respond to every need.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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