Burnout and Renewal: Changing Perspectives in Neurosurgery

ma3Guest post from Joseph C. Maroon, MD
Clinical professor and vice-chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery and the Heindl Scholar in Neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
Pittsburgh, PA

Today, 57 percent of neurosurgeons currently report “burnout” in their career. It is time we recognize this common burnout as a very serious and very preventable issue. I experienced it myself, after enjoying a career filled with accolades, accomplishments, and success. In my early 40s, I began a frightening descent into depression.

For me, it was my unidimensional commitment to become the best neurosurgeon I could be that insidiously led to complete imbalance in my life. Ten years after finishing residency, I’d really only succeeded in ruining a marriage, losing any sense of purpose in my work, and becoming physically and emotionally exhausted.

Fortunately, I recognized the adversity I faced was a powerful opportunity, and I learned from my experience. I eventually recovered and returned to my neurosurgical career, and six years later, I stood in front of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons (CNS) to give a presidential address. In my talk, I shared the four important “sides” of life:

  • Work;
  • Physical health;
  • Spirituality; and
  • Relationships.

book 2In my latest book, Square One: A Simple Guide to a Balanced Life, I recount my own story of adversity and how I ultimately re-balanced my life by embracing all four sides of life. I also have the privilege of sharing the stories of three other amazing people who represent the best of balanced living: Rajesh Durbal, the only triple-amputee to complete the Kona Ironman World Championship; Dr. Elizabeth Tyler-Kabara, a Pittsburgh neurosurgeon with a successful career and beautiful family; and Sam Hazo, poet and professor emeritus.

Square One addresses how to control the stress of our busy and demanding careers, how balanced living can help prevent many of the chronic diseases of aging, and how creativity, humor, and purpose can affect our health span — not just our life span.

Today, I have rediscovered the excitement and rewards of caring for others, the importance and fun of new research projects, and the undeniable benefits of empathy and stimulating friendships. I live with daily gratitude for everything adversity taught me.

I encourage neurosurgeons to turn and look toward one another to see examples of the resiliency, compassion, and humility needed in times of adversity — both in the operating room and in life. If you’d like to use Square One as your guide, learn more about it here.

Editor’s note: The content of this post originally appeared in the Congress Quarterly which is a publication of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons (CNS).

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