Recently, the American College of Surgeons determined that identifying and managing “surgeon burnout” is one of its top concerns. Recent surveys of their members show that a majority demonstrate signs of “burnout” that are linked to excessive working hours, increasing paperwork, and bureaucracy that takes them away from patient interaction. This is on top of the fact they are regularly dealing with emotionally-charged situations (life and death). Jobs that deal daily with human trauma can cause dangerous burnout symptoms that could affect judgement or depression and even lead to suicide. 

Does this concern you as much as it does me? Don’t we want surgeons and people in careers like law enforcement and government refreshed and on top of their game?  

The Mayo Clinic describes some of the signs of burnout as:

  • Being cynical, overly critical at work
  • Being tired, irritable, having trouble concentrating and low energy
  • Disillusioned about the job; unsatisfied with everything
  • Using unhealthy coping mechanisms such as excessive food, drugs or alcohol 
  • Unexplained health issues.

I wonder if we all share some responsibility for this burnout? Do we forget that these are human beings in these professions who have their own issues and may even make mistakes? 

The current culture of dramatic and vicious attacks on social media, the rush to sue and the vilification of nearly everyone makes these high-pressure careers not only less appealing to enter, but also leads to earlier resignation. 

Many Salem citizens are continually surprised that our Mayor and City Councilors are unpaid volunteers. Legislators are paid very little for the privilege of evaluating thousands of complicated bills each session as well as having to raise thousands for a campaign. Besides the investment of their own time and money, they often take a good virtual beating from the public, no matter what they do. 

So how can we be more compassionate to those in high pressure jobs? First, take the time to learn about their jobs. Read biographies, visit worksites, job shadow, and visit with people in these challenging professions. Go on a police ride-along or spend a day at the capitol.  Finally, be careful not to put anyone on too high a pedestal.  It’s great when someone is completely healed or rescued from danger but that isn’t always possible. Remember these people have worked exceedingly hard to get where they are, but they are human, and mistakes can happen. We need to treat them professionally and with grace. 


Mary Louise VanNatta, APR, CAE is the CEO of VanNatta Public Relations, a PR, event planning and consulting firm in Salem, Oregon.

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