By Miranda Ruben
It is no secret that being part of the genetic counseling profession can be stressful. The stressors for genetic counselors start with the application to a master’s program and continue through to practicing genetic counselors. This stress contributes to a high burnout rate for genetic counselors; burnout is classified as exhaustion which is severe enough to question an individual’s ability to perform. Genetic counselors actually have a higher burnout rate than nurses, and this is one of the primary reasons for genetic counselors to leave the field. How can we prevent feeling this ourselves? What can we do if we start to feel this way? First we must understand the factors that contribute to higher burnout rates.
According to an article that was published by the Journal of Genetic Counseling, the three highest factors for genetic counselors include exhaustion, indifference to work, and decreased job satisfaction with lowered expectations of effectiveness.
The good news is that there are steps we can take to prevent or lessen those feelings. As most healthy living articles will tell you, decreasing the amount of alcohol and tobacco as well as general healthy living (related to food and exercise) will help you to feel less exhaustion.
Indifference at work may arise because of a concept called compassion fatigue. That happens when we have intense emotional responses to the condition or emotions of the patients. As a genetic counselor, there are many times that will we all be faced with very emotional patients, and we cannot help feeling for them. It is especially important in those instances to have an escape from work whether that includes spending time with your family, trying a dance class, cooking, or taking a walk.
Coping mechanisms are needed in the field of genetic counseling. There will be times when it is hard to process the situations that we are faced with. We are trained to be able to pick up on emotions and empathize with patients, which can lead to our own emotional responses. Finding an outlet or outlets for your emotions is crucial. Good interpersonal relationships are an outlet that has been correlated with decreased burnout rates. In fact, people that are married tend to have less feelings of burnout than people that are either single or divorced, but this is not the only strategy. There are seminars and learning modules that have been found help increase coping abilities and help to decrease feelings of burnout.
Feelings related to decreased job satisfaction can happen for a variety of reasons including high volume of patients, constantly evolving duties, or dealing with uncertain results. One of the primary ways to help with lessening feeling of dissatisfaction is by clearly defining your role and expectations as a genetic counselor in your establishment. Although this may be an awkward topic, it can help to resolve any misunderstandings you may have.
Genetic counseling is often thought of in a clinical setting, but if you have tried other options for lessening the feeling of burnout, there are other routes you can take. Insurance companies, laboratories, and start up companies are often in need of a genetic counselor. Each of the specialties that a genetic counselor can do will carry stressors and risks for getting burned out, but learning how to deal with the main burnout factors can help to lessen the effects.
If you are feeling burned out, know that you are not alone. There are resources that can help.
Johnstone, B., Kaiser, A., Injeyan, M., Sappleton, K., Chitayat, D., Stephens, D., and Shuman, C. “The Relationship Between Burnout and Occupational Stress in Genetic Counselors.” Journal of Genetic Counseling 25.4 (2016): 731-41. Web.