The Kiwi doctor who recently led the charge to make an amendment to the modern day Hippocratic Oath says doctor burnout is at "epidemic" levels but small changes can make all the difference.
Dr Sam Hazledine, owner of one of Australasia's biggest medical recruitment agencies, MedRecruit, said he delved into the issue because he was concerned about the high rate of burnout among doctors around the world and the lack of research into how to manage it.
"What I found was terrifying. About 50 per cent of doctors around the world are in burnout right now ... It's an epidemic," he said. "The thing about doctors is we don't display it. We have a very good professional facade of competence."
A study in New Zealand last year found about half of all medical specialists in public hospitals were suffering from high rates of burnout while a study of more than 2000 American physicians showed 87 per cent were stressed beyond levels that were productive.
While it was not healthy for those in the profession, Hazledine said the biggest problem with doctors being burnt out was that it increased the chance of major medical errors.
"One in two doctors is in a state where they are harming patients," he said.
In his new book Medicine's Four Minute Mile: The Evolved Physicians Oath, released today, Hazledine explained that to make sure patients got the best care doctors had to take care of themselves - the principal behind the recent oath change he led.
Hazledine's amendment was backed by a 4500-strong petition and accepted by the World Medical Association Congress. The Declaration of Geneva now reads: "I will attend to my own health, well-being, and abilities in order to provide care of the highest standard".
Hazledine said doctors were more affected by stress than other professions because of the responsibility which came with the life and death nature of the job and the huge hours they were expected to work.
So, he sought out those doctors who were thriving despite the stresses and pressures of the job and interviewed them to find out what they did differently. He found was there were eight core patterns of behaviour that were significantly more likely to be practised amongst the doctors who were thriving.
Doctors needed to remember their purpose; make time for sleep, exercise and food; have goals beyond work; build teams of people around them to help carry the load; and time for fun, he said.
Hazledine admitted changes were needed to the system - hospitals needed to be fully staffed and the culture among leadership needed to change - but said his book aimed to give doctors "tools to thrive within what is the system now" until those changes came about.
Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director Ian Powell said he believed those changes might help but would not get rid of the problem.
He believed the problem was a systemic one for specialist doctors and was fuelled largely by shortages.
"The biggest issue we can see is workloads. We have a chronic shortage of specialists," he said. "We've got to change that reasonably quickly. It takes about three to six months to recruit a specialist. It doesn't have to be years."
The eight core behaviours of thriving doctors
• The Shift
Source: Dr Sam Hazledine