“Don’t just be a monkey in a cage, repeatedly getting shocked,” says Donn Dexter, MD, vice chief medical officer of the Mayo Clinic Health System in Wisconsin. There is something you can do to combat physician burnout: get involved in advocacy. Whether at a local or national level, be an advocate for your patients, your practice, and your profession.

Before 2012, Dexter told an audience at the 2017 annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology, he was like a lot of neurologists, experiencing typical signs of burnout like “emotional exhaustion, cynicism, depersonalisation, loss of empathy and career dissatisfaction.” Then, he says he spent a weekend taking part in the Palatucci Advocacy Leadership Forum (P.A.L.F.). This set him on a path of giving back that turned things around, and now he says, “I can’t imagine being burned out.”

The P.A.L.F. weekend he attended was established by the American Academy of Neurology “to give members who have identified an area of concern in their community” the leadership and advocacy tools “to better advocate for their patients and the profession of neurology.” This three-minute YouTube video offers more detail about the mission and tools offered by P.A.L.F.

After the training, Dexter got involved in advocacy at the national level. He has taken part in programs like Neurology on the Hill to meet with lawmakers and advocate for his profession. Remember, he says, “If you are not at the table, you will be on the menu.” He also recommends involvement in political action committees like the AAN’s BrainPac, and he has since returned to P.A.L.F. as an advisor.

If you want to get involved in advocacy, “P.A.L.F. is a great place to start,” says Dexter, but you don’t have to start there. You can start with your state’s medical society or neurology association. Dexter is the chief medical officer of the Wisconsin Medical Society and he says, “Some states have good advocacy training.”

Even if they don’t have training programs, per se, you can still get involved with one of these organizations and propose a resolution to fill a need in your state. Or start even smaller and practice advocacy on your own: organize a local 5K to raise money for research or walkers for your local nursing home, for example.

“I don’t have time,” is a phrase Dexter says he hears a lot. But time in advocacy is not lost. He says, every hour he invests in advocacy, he gets back in spades. “It has helped my research and my practice. It really recharges my battery.” He gets great value from “doing for others” in this way and enjoys the comradery of it. The only thing, he warns, is “it can be addicting.”

Learn more about neurologist burnout and resources that can help in our previous post: Focus of AAN Presidential Lecture: Neurologist Burnout.