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Out of Chaos Comes a Dancing Star: Notes on Professional Burnout by Chris Ellis. OpenBooks Press, 2014, PB, 95pp, £18, http://www.lastoutpost.info
The author of this book has a fellowship and doctorate in family medicine, and from 2005 to 209 was an associate professor of family medicine at the University of the United Arab Emirates. He is now back home, semi-retired, and doing family practice in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.
The opening quote from the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche sets the tone, ‘Out of chaos comes a dancing star’, which in its fuller context reads: ‘One must have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star.’
The text derives from his collection of notes taken from experience, workshops, and courses on the management of stress and burnout in medical doctors, and those involved in the healing professions, although he says it applies to all professionals whether in law, business, or driving the school bus. Stress is a common theme risking progression to burnout. His work shows that understanding another person’s trials and tribulations can be a source of inspiration. Although the text has a serious undertone it sparkles with wit throughout.
Insights into some of the struggles experienced by healthcare professionals are revealed, creating an awareness of the similarity of concepts and conditions encountered by all doctors. The book offers advice and motivation to see past the common despairs of working life and provides comfort in the knowledge that you are not alone when times can get tough.
Topics included are: how we see patients, attitudes to medicine and the practice thereof, the organisation of our work, and conflicts. There are quotes from attendees at the workshops, and excerpts from ‘iconic texts’ scattered throughout the book for contemplation.
Even the list of contents is intriguing. For example; the wounded healer; long hours and no sleep; the character of the doctor; management of acute burnout; guilt and loneliness; the Mr God complex; the angry doctor; the doctor–doctor relationship; credentials needed for burnout; know thyself; and finally, the Phoenix Phenomenon.
Fundamentally the problems are of time, or rather the lack of time, overwhelming obligations, anxieties over making errors in diagnosis, the increasingly informed, uninformed, and misinformed patient, and, of course, the burgeoning administrative and management problems. There are numerous splendid quotes and example situations placed throughout the text.
I would encourage you to dive into this treasure trove of medical wisdom and take away those insights that mean the most to you personally. Although many of the concerns are the products of extreme circumstances, it’s fascinating to see how the messages relate to the NHS or similar systems all around the world, no matter how sophisticated we may think our version of health care to be. We all, save a few of us, appear to suffer stress in trying to fulfil our role.