Could Narrative Medicine Lower Doctor Burnout Rates?

Doctors and current medical students are at the highest risk of mental illness and suicide when compared to other fields. These stem directly from doctor burnout, which is when a medical practitioner or student is over-taxed emotionally, physically, mentally, and sometimes even spiritually.

It has been an ongoing process to find something that could help to lower the rates at which doctors suffer burnout. By decreasing burnout, the rates at which current and prospective physicians suffer mental illness and commit suicide are thought to also decrease.

The latest hope in this ongoing research process is Narrative Medicine. New research has shown that this little-known field of study could prove highly beneficial to physicians.

What is “Narrative Medicine”?

Narrative Medicine may not be a term many people (even within the medical community) are familiar with. This is because it’s a fairly new area of interest, which was first written about in the 1990’s. At least, in its most modern sense. The concept from which the study area stems is absolutely ancient.

Narrative Medicine is an idea that doctors should treat the whole person versus a set of symptoms or diseases. It incorporates mental and emotional health with the physical, to provide a more effective set of treatments.

Narrative Medicine can be taken much further than this, however. In fact, it can prove to be a highly useful and effective tool for doctors.

How Does Narrative Medicine Help Prevent Doctor Burnout?

The idea of narrative medicine is to look at the whole picture. This allows physicians to see their patients as real, living people who have stories. Results, information, and patient demographical information all creates a story, which the physician writes with what they have been given.

While this is a useful diagnostic tool which can help to identify patterns in treatment and illness, it is also much more than that. It is useful for the doctor’s health also.

When creating this narrative, the doctor has an ability to place their own feelings into perspective. If, for example, a longtime patient has died, the issue could prove traumatic. When so much of a person’s lifetime has been placed into the health and care of another, there is a lot of personal investment. A narrative allows the doctor to express their sadness.

In effect, narrative medicine is medical journaling. The mental health benefits of journaling have been extensively researched and proven. Using this knowledge, narrative medicine aims to pair this therapeutic technique with medical treatment and diagnostics to help doctors avoid burnout.

How Serious is the Doctor Burnout Issue?

As discussed in the opening paragraph, burnout contributes highly to the levels of mental illness and suicide in the medical community. But just how serious is this issue?

The rate of doctors who suffer from depression is as high as 30 percent. It varies among different specialties, but is astoundingly high overall. The reason is well-known. Long hours, little sleep, high stress, and life-altering decision making all contribute. Often, doctors will work extended shifts without regard to their own personal health. In addition to lack of sleep, doctors might fail to eat regularly, hydrate, or enjoy any type of social life period.