“Burnout” ~ a smokescreen for human rights abuse

Physician burnout is human rights abuse

“Burnout” is a smokescreen for rampant human rights violations in medicine. Am I losing anyone here? Let me break it down.

“Burnout” is a complete mental and physical collapse from overwork. Psychiatrists define it as a job-related dysphoria in an individual without major psychopathy. Which means—your job sucks. You’re normal

Smokescreen is an artificial cloud of smoke that hides the perpetrator’s true intentions. This cloud of smoke may take the form of a statement or word used to obscure the truth so victims don’t understand what the heck is really going on. For example, apply the victim-blaming term “burnout” to deflect attention from oppressors who are guilty of human rights violations.

Human rights violation is the violation of a basic right to which all humans are entitled, including the right to life, liberty, equality, a fair trial, freedom from slavery and torture, and freedom of thought and expression. Common human rights violations in medicine include: 1) Sleep deprivation (24+hour shifts, 80+hour work weeks) as described by this physician whistleblower who was forced to work 168-hour shifts.  2) Not being allowed to eat, poop, pee when one needs to 3) Bullying and hazing 4) Being terminated, harassed, or threatened rather than receiving accommodations under the ADA for mental or physical health issues as described by this physician whistleblower who nearly died when her hospital obstructed her medical care.

Physician whistleblower is a physician who reveals health care’s human rights violations to the public. If you’re a physician with a whistleblower story, contact me. Doctors must stop being complicit with abuse or they will become the perpetrators (see below). Physician whistleblowers protect themselves, other health professionals, and patients from continued abuse. Silence and secrets protect the perpetrators.

Victim is a person harmed, injured, or subjected to oppression or mistreatment (may include being sacrificed or killed due to an action/inaction). Those who don’t know they are victims are at high risk of becoming perpetrators.

Perpetrator is an individual (acting alone or within a system such as a medical school, residency or hospital) who harms, injures, or subjects another to oppression or mistreatment (may include sacrificing or killing someone else due to perpetrator’s action/inaction).

Burnout is a smokescreen for rampant human rights violations in medicine. One way to end a cycle of abuse is to stop blaming the victims. Tell the truth: it’s not burnout, it’s abuse. 


Pamela Wible, M.D., is a physician who reports on human rights violations in medicine. Have you been abused in medical training or beyond? Contact Dr. Wible. 

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5 comments on ““Burnout” ~ a smokescreen for human rights abuse
  1. Linda Ayres says:

    BRAVO Dr Pamela Wible MD! Do you know Wendy Addison? We should do #VirtualLunch in January!


    Because, after all




    It is high time for #CourageousConversations!

    Till then, #JustWhistle and they follow the leader strategy might require polished Twitter skills for all people of goodwill around the world!

    Happy holidays to both of you and let’s get something on calendar!


  2. Anonymous says:

    We just had an issue at the urgent care that I work at on a per diem basis. It’s part of a strip mall, but the place has been open for 5 years and no routine maintenance is done. We do 12 hour shifts, with the usual it being frowned upon that we eat or pee. It even showed up on one of the doctor’s Press Ganeys. A patient complained that the doctor (an African American female) was eating at her desk.

    Anyways moving on to the most recent issue, 2 weeks ago one of the neighbors did some work on the roof and the building became cold. The full time doc (who is dark skinned and a FMG from Africa) complained it was cold. He was ignored, for the most part. HVAC was called but never came, and was never followed up on.

    I came for my shift on Thursday and the night before temperatures has dropped to below freezing. The majority of the clinic was intolerably cold (the thermostat stated 63 degrees F, but it felt much colder). However, since the waiting room was still heated, the doors were kept open and we had to keep seeing patients.

    I went to the store next door to buy a space heater and gloves because I refused to freeze for 12 hours. We’re expected to wear scrubs as our uniforms, which are obviously not designed for cold weather. I wore a hat, gloves and a jacket for the shift. Both my run to the store and my outfit were complained about by management.

    They refused to call emergency HVAC services until patients started to complain. Even at that point, corporate wanted to stay open which we did. HVAC guy came and said he fixed it, but it actually got colder.

    The next day (according to the mid level) the temperature on the thermostat was 55 degrees. The place was kept open, and patients seen. The emergency HVAC finally found that 2 of the 3 heating units were broken. One unit had a hole in it and was blowing carbon monoxide into the clinic. Luckily, no one was hurt. I’m still not sure if the repair was made, but I AM sure the place is still open.

    I’m somewhat concerned that I’m going to lose any shifts I have or will get because I refused to roll over completely. I think I’ll be ok. They don’t have enough doctors, and it isn’t my only source of income. The full time folks don’t have the luxury of rocking the boat.

    It shows the meat grinder that corporate medicine is. Doors must stay open and patients shuttled through no matter what. If it’s cold or the staff gets carbon monoxide poisoning, who cares! They appeal to the nobler part of our profession by saying we have to stay open to provide services or who else will. In the meantime, patients with medical assistance or another insurance that we don’t take are turned away.

  3. Pamela Wible MD says:

    PLEASE STOP USING THE VICTIM-BLAMING WORD “BURNOUT.”I’ve been asked to submit an article for a special edition journal on physician burnout. I wrote back stating: I think it is essential that you frame this conversation in a way that stops blaming the victim. I’ve written extensively on this and welcome you to use any of my previous blogs.

    Editor: I totally hear you on victim blaming and explained the question of use of the term burnout on the From the Editor page of the current issue. It’s difficult, though, NOT to use that term when all of the medical organizations do so and it’s the term the public has become accustomed to, so I use it, albeit reluctantly, with an explanation that the term itself is a poor way to describe the issue.

    Me: The longer we allow inaccurate and harmful terms to be used against physicians, the longer we will suffer. Just because everyone says it doesn’t mean it’s right. We don’t describe rape victims as sluts. So lets stop blaming doctors with the word “burnout” If we keep using the word burnout its like calling a firefighter to put out fires when 100 arsonists are in the loose. We’re not going to get very far. Stop burning down our physicians with this word. Please.

  4. Lauren Christman says:

    Yes, and part of the system of abuse — not just individual perpetrators — resides within the acculturated idea (the lie) that the destructive conditions are somehow reasonable and/or acceptable. This goes for working conditions, measurable ‘outputs’, hierarchical power structures, etc. — all the structural components of the system that grind down the humanity of all the people working (and being treated) in these conditions. Thank you for speaking out!

  5. WEI WANG MD says:

    I don’t know how a psychiatrist is under so much attack can survive this long. Sometimes it really gets me i.e. today. Patients want disability, adderal, xanax and home schoolings, when denied, they made up the worst lies about me.
    My ex has download ing my bad reviews to my children, one has major DMDD who is 13, one is 15.both supersmart but very callous after my 11 years old nanny joined the ex- mob.
    I really felt the heat. I don’t know how to learn all these computer skills to fight back. Why some hospital saw 2million pts each year, there was only 5 reviews? I like to learn.

    I am burned out. I am very beaten

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