I Hate Being a Medical Assistant: Advice for Medical Assisting Burnout
Working as a medical assistant offers many rewards and many challenges. The rate of burnout among clinical health care professionals is, understandably, higher than that of other professions. Being responsible for the health and well-being of others can, over time, become a heavy burden.
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Medical assistants are bombarded with a multitude of responsibilities in any given day. Overtime, those responsibilities may become overwhelming. You may begin to resent your job as a MA or realize that this isn’t the career you had hoped for. Before you realize it, you may develop burnout which threatens not only your career, but your health.
What are the Symptoms of Burnout?
Helpguide.org classifies burnout as:
A state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.
It’s true; your job may be stressful and the challenges of working in a busy medical office can be draining. True burnout; however, takes normal stress one step further. Both untreated stress and burnout can lead to chronic health problems like insomnia, depression and heart disease.
Symptoms of job-related stress include:
- Lack of energy
- Over-reactive emotions
- Trouble sleeping
- Feelings of urgency or anxiety
These symptoms may appear when you’re at work or thinking about going to work. Job-related stress can also encroach on your life outside of work. Medical assistants who are new to the career may experience stress while becoming acclimated to the job. Experienced medical assistants may develop stress with changes to their clinical practice or from trying to balance work and family obligations.
Medical Assistant burnout is a much deeper problem. Burnout occurs when symptoms of work-related stress are ignored or not well managed. Medical assistants who are unhappy with either their career choice or place of employment may be at risk for developing burnout. All medical assistants can experience burnout if they work in a chaotic environment, feel as if they have no control over their work or daily schedule, or receive little encouragement or acknowledgement from management about troubles in the clinic or with staffing issues.
Burnout occurs slowly and happens over time. Symptoms of work-related burnout include:
- Feeling physically drained, even with frequent exercise
- Frequent illness, such as colds or gastrointestinal illness
- Reoccurring headaches or migraines
- Feeling trapped in your job
- Feeling emotionally detached. You may lack the ability to care any longer about your patients or co-workers.
- Loss of motivation to perform your job, or feeling cynical or bitter over your work responsibilities
- Feeling as if your career is hopeless and that no matter what you do, it will not get better
Like stress, symptoms of burnout may overlap into your non-working life as well.
How Can I Overcome Burn-Out?
The first step in overcoming burnout is recognizing the symptoms. If you begin noticing symptoms of stress or burnout, consider meeting with your personal physician to discuss the issue. Beyond medical treatment or advice, there are other ways to help overcome medical assistant burnout.
- Actively address problems or concerns: Acknowledge the issues you have at work that may be causing your symptoms. Be sure to communicate your concerns with those who are in a position to make changes or help.
- Take time off: Taking a break from your medical assisting job may be instrumental in helping you overcome burnout. If you have vacation time, use it. If not, talk to your physician about the possibility of medically-prescribed time off.
- Change what you can: Take a look at your job and recognize what you can immediately control and change; adjust your schedule, or change how you prepare for the next day.
- Incorporate a chance to relax: Taking time for personal relaxation everyday is important for mental health, especially for health care providers. Allow yourself time to meditate, read or take a walk every day.
Everyone heals from burnout differently. The key is to be open with your employer, physician and your friends and family. Accept suggestions and help as needed to help you overcome symptoms.
What if I Really Dislike Being a Medical Assistant?
A career in medical assisting isn’t for everyone. Newly graduated MA students may enter the workforce and find the career isn’t what they’d hoped for. Or, after working as a medical assistant for a while, you may find you no longer enjoy the profession.
Luckily, you have options. Your medical assisting training prepared you to work in many different areas in a clinical office. Changing your role in the medical office may help. For instance, if you’re currently a clinical medical assistant, flipping to administration only may help. Changing your role within the medical assisting profession may allow you to work:
- In medical records
- As a receptionist
- As a phlebotomist
- As a transcriptionist
- As a patient care technician
- In medical coding and billing
Your medical assisting degree may even allow you to transfer college credits towards a new education so you can start fresh.