Burn Brightly – But Don’t Burn Out
With the many pressures facing laboratory professionals, it’s important to guard against overload
Earlier this week, I realized that I don’t have any more international events scheduled for this year. There may only be three months left in it, but still – the break is a welcome change of pace. I love attending events, meeting pathologists and laboratory medicine professionals, and even the sensation of not being quite sure what time zone I’m in – or even what day it is! Nevertheless, I’m sure anyone who travels for education or engagement understands the pleasure of being able to unpack without immediately having to repack for the next trip.
But I’m only writing about pathology and lab medicine. I may be busy, but my chosen profession isn’t making headlines for overwork, burnout, and staffing shortages. I’m not debating whether to work evenings and weekends or allow patients to wait additional days for what may be life-changing diagnoses. And my photograph didn’t appear in the news next to a paragraph stating that only 3 percent of histopathology departments in the UK last year had enough staff to meet clinical demand.
Medical science is speeding along and treatment options are exploding. Patients are living longer than ever, even after severe or life-limiting diagnoses. Laboratory professionals are facing retirement, often without knowing who will take their place in busy hospitals or remote settings with few local doctors. Together, these and other factors mean that today’s pathologists and lab medicine professionals are increasingly at risk of burnout. It sounds obvious – a concern discussed over and over in conferences, journal articles, and right here in The Pathologist – and yet it’s still a problem without a good solution.
We can train more people – but that relies on having sufficient space, resources, and interested parties. We can outsource work – but that relies on having affordable, accessible laboratories who can take on the extra burden. We can relegate simple, repetitive tasks to our computers – if we have the software, hardware, and knowledge to do so. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but the common thread running through all laboratories is this: you need a break.
So if you’re heading to a meeting in the next few months, perhaps you’ll consider staying for that gala dinner or that free conference breakfast. If you work long hours on evenings and weekends, perhaps you’ll find some time to yourself to clear your mind. And if you’re in a position to influence decisions, perhaps you can encourage others to do the same – or to find solutions that ensure that no member of the laboratory team has to take on more than they can handle.
While obtaining degrees in biology from the University of Alberta and biochemistry from Penn State College of Medicine, I worked as a freelance science and medical writer. I was able to hone my skills in research, presentation and scientific writing by assembling grants and journal articles, speaking at international conferences, and consulting on topics ranging from medical education to comic book science. As much as I’ve enjoyed designing new bacteria and plausible superheroes, though, I’m more pleased than ever to be at Texere, using my writing and editing skills to create great content for a professional audience.