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Doctor Burnout
Nov 18, 2011

My doctor is a great man who went into HIV/AIDS treatment back when there were AIDS wards and counseled patients to boil their water. He expresses to me, as a friend, that he is now treating very few Opportunistic Infections. He feels he is treating AGE not AIDS. He comments that a lot of the younger newly-diagnosed patients he sees (who are healthy) bring him SSI paperwork and handicap parking sticker applications.

As a long term survivor who this doctor has saved from death (literally) when I was on the AIDS Ward, what can I say to him? He has treated AIDS for almost all of his practice and is not ready to retire but it kills me to see him so disheartened.

Thank You.

Response from Dr. Fawcett

Working with HIV is intense and it can frequently be emotionally exhausting. The nature of the work has changed over time as the epidemic has evolved. While our understanding of the virus has improved tremendously, as have treatment interventions, the nature of the work has changed to one more characterized by management rather than crisis (it concerns me sometimes that there isn't enough of a sense of crisis now).

Despite these changes, the rate of burnout among HIV professionals remains high. HIV affects not only the body but emotions and spirit as well, resulting in an extremely complex set of issues to address in treatment. Anyone working in this field really needs to be conscious of self-care. Many things can help: time away from the office, a place to vent feelings (especially frustrations), exercise, quiet time, and a strong support system.

You might suggest these to him (as a friend) but then I think it's best for you to let him address these issues on his own. One danger in the doctor/patient relationship is losing the boundary between the two. While I understand your concern for him, remember that his well-being is not your responsibility.

Thanks for writing,

-David



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