Contributed by Sharon Vipler, an Addictions MD for St. Paul’s Hospital and Fraser Health Substance Use Services. Below, she discusses the hazard of burnout for clinical professionals and her pledge to address this issue with her team. 

Burnout is not uncommon among health care professionals. Our work can be intense, both emotionally and physically. Vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue are real and increase risk of burnout. When working with patients with substance use disorders, health care workers often feel overwhelmed and under-prepared for how best to serve this patient population. In the current environment of the opioid public health crisis, many workers feel exhausted and helpless. Working with patients with substance use disorders requires a trauma-informed and patient-centered approach.

Until very recently, there has been little formalized training available to frontline health care workers on how best to develop an approach to providing best care for individuals with substance use disorders. Patients with substance use disorders are often viewed as chaotic and difficult to manage, with health care needs stretching beyond physical demands. The psychological and social requirements for best care are often more difficult to provide than simply managing the physical issues.

As an addiction medicine specialist, I would sometimes find myself frustrated with colleagues who were dismissive of my patients. Over time, I have learned that a dismissive approach can at times be a protective shield and at other times, be the result of burnout. In an attempt to improve team functioning and ultimately, patient care, I pledge to debrief with colleagues about patients with substance use disorders and provide education and support to these colleague