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The Anti-Burnout Mentality: The Power of Positively Reframing Thoughts


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By Laura Suttin, MD, MBA, MCPDC, Founder, Purposeful MD

Several months ago, I worked with a clinician who told me she wanted to finish reading a book to earn a sense of accomplishment. Because, in her words, “I start things and then don’t finish them.” However, I had a hunch that wasn’t completely true. 

I asked her to recall the times in her life when she has finished projects, and she named several. I added more to her list, including completion of her medical training for which she wasn’t crediting herself. This clinician‘s pervasive thoughts were neither healthy nor productive. This happens all the time – especially in today’s demanding healthcare environment, including in the ambulatory setting. 

The rising prevalence of burnout among clinicians (more than 50% according to some studies) can lead to detrimental consequences, including physicians leaving practice. This results in limited access to care and lack of continuity of care. Additionally, burnout can threaten patient safety and quality of care.1-3 

Physician Coaching
Professional coaching is an evidence-based resource proven to reduce burnout and improve well-being for physicians. Evidence shows a significant financial return on investment and improved patient safety outcomes for organizations with reduced rates of burnout.   

As a professional physician coach, I understand the urgency for healthcare organizations to invest in the well-being of their physicians. The process of physician coaching often unlocks previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity and leadership. As a coach, I try to draw out the best in a clinician so they can:

  • Leverage their strengths
  • Uncover any unconscious barriers to achieve their potential
  • Create an action plan to move forward

As we continue navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic, I have witnessed an uptick in both an organizational commitment to coaching, as well as individual physician requests for either one-on-one or group coaching. Mounting evidence shows that physicians who receive coaching improve their leadership skills, well-being and patient outcomes. 

Reframing Negative Thoughts 
To help the clinician with whom I worked, we discussed how to reframe her thoughts to serve her better. “I complete what I set my mind to do” instead of “I start things and then don’t finish them” was a quick and simple way to reframe her thought pattern, thus, helping her to feel more confident and accomplished.
We all have thoughts such as:

  • “I want to (insert goal), but don’t have the time."
  • “I wish I could pick up my hobby again.”
  • “After my kids are older, I’ll have time for…”
  • “Everyone else has resources to do what they want to do, but not me.”

Are these thoughts really serving us? Probably not. How do they make us feel? Guilty, unproductive or anxious? 
Let’s reframe these thoughts to positively alter our conceptions and instead, declare:

  • “I can do what I want to do NOW.”
  • “I deserve to prioritize what’s important to me.”
  • “I’ll make time for what’s important.”

How do these reframed thoughts make us feel? They should make us feel more worthy, valued and productive. Thoughts can be powerful, so it’s important that we reframe them into a positive perspective. Positive thinking benefits us and our patients, too. 

Laura Suttin, MD, MBA, MCPDC, is a practicing family physician, physician executive, healthcare consultant and certified coach. Dr. Suttin received her coaching certification from the Physician Coaching Institute in 2021 and is a member of the International Coaching Federation. She is the founder of Purposeful MD ( with the mission to partner with physicians to live their most purposeful lives. She provides individual coaching to clinicians all over the world. She lives in San Antonio with her husband and their four children.

1Dyrbye LN, Shanafelt TD, Gill PR, Satele DV, West CP. Effect of a Professional Coaching Intervention on the Well-being and Distress of Physicians: A Pilot Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2019;179(10):1406–1414. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.242

2Salyers MP, Bonfils KA, Luther L, Firmin RL, White DA, Adams EL, Rollins AL. The Relationship Between Professional Burnout and Quality and Safety in Healthcare: A Meta-Analysis. J Gen Intern Med. 2017 Apr;32(4):475-482. doi: 10.1007/s11606-016-3886-9. Epub 2016 Oct 26. PMID: 27785668; PMCID: PMC5377877

3Shanafelt T, Goh J, Sinsky C. The Business Case for Investing in Physician Well-being. JAMA Intern Med. 2017 Dec 1;177(12):1826-1832. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.4340. PMID: 28973070