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Overcoming the Challenges of Internship Burnout

Everyone experiences days when they feel overworked, stressed or irritable on the job, and that’s normal. However, some people feel those things the majority of the time.  Additionally, some may begin to feel underappreciated and overtaxed in the workplace more frequently. Those struggling also may have issues sleeping, trouble concentrating and feelings of frustration, hopelessness and worthlessness. They might be fatigued on a regular basis and have negative thoughts concerning their professional life often. The people who struggle with those issues might actually be suffering from internship burnout.

When someone who isn’t depressed hits a rough patch and experiences stress in an internship setting, they understand that it will get better in the future. However, if you’re depressed or discouraged, you might see no hope for the future.  Internship burnout doesn’t occur overnight.  This can happen gradually; a sort of slow, aggravated depression that creeps up until it has fully manifested itself and one becomes depleted, disengaged and even cynical.

For instance, you might be unhappy in your situation but not take any steps to change it. You may not see the point, because you feel as if you might not have a say in the matter as an intern or “low man on the totem pole.”


Internship Challenges

Working at a new internship or job can be a daunting task at any stage in your career. Meeting productivity standards and the demands of a job are sometimes very different from what you may have anticipated prior to accepting an internship.  Coworkers can be catty, competitive or even lazy – leaving you to do the heavy lifting. As a result, you may even dread reporting to work or to your supervisor.

Perhaps you are a college senior, dipping your feet into the working world and trying to gain some professional experience. Or maybe you are a medical intern facing the new challenges of a demanding overnight call rotation?

It’s well known that due to long working hours and stressful working conditions, doctors experience burnout more often than other professional groups. Career burnout begins in the early years, continues to increase and becomes most evident in the internship of medical school.  Balancing “mandatory work-hours” and anti-bullying has helped ease the high-stress atmosphere some in the last decade, but it’s still a cut-throat environment out there for most folks.
But serious job burnout isn’t reserved for just interns. Professionals at any stage in their career can experience symptoms of internship burnout like anxiety, depression, disengagement, and bitterness. Feeling undercompensated and pushed to one’s limit isn’t anything new.  In today’s competitive job market it’s practically a given.


Coping with the symptoms of Internship Burnout

So what are some ways to cope with the symptoms of Internship Burnout or even head it off at the pass?

  • Set boundaries up front when beginning an internship. If possible, fully understand what you are committing to from the start of a new working relationship.
  • Have an open conversation with your supervisor if you are unhappy or overwhelmed. This will be helpful especially if you are adept at your job, where many bosses may be inclined to keep piling on the work unless and until you say when.
  • Do your best to listen to your body and rest when you need to by taking short breaks throughout the day. It may seem counterintuitive, but you will find that short breaks actually re-energize the body to get more done that simply “pushing through” in one long stretch.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Create healthy habits like packing a nutritious lunch, taking walking breaks at lunch, and taking stretching breaks to manage stress throughout the day.
  • Avoid social media while working unless work requires you to use it. This is a hidden added stress we have in our lives that can easily be eliminated during working hours.
  • If your coworkers are a source of stress, a great source of leverage is your own behavior. In the case of needy or lackadaisical coworkers, this can be especially helpful.
  • If your job does not require you to do work during your off-hours, then allow yourself to truly be “off”. That means no checking work emails, phone calls, updates, etc.
  • If you are feeling depressed, anxious, despondent, or having trouble sleeping or controlling your temper, it is important to speak to your health professional right away.
  • Give whatever solutions you try a sincere effort.

Some internships are stressful by nature, just like some professions can be. If there’s simply no escaping the stress, there are always coping skills that you can have at the ready to relieve stress from your internship (or job) to avoid burnout.   To successfully navigate that path,it’s important to listen to your personal needs and decide what works best for you to succeed professionally.


Chandramouleeswaran, Susmita, Natasha C Edwin, and Deepa Braganza. “Job Stress, Satisfaction, and Coping Strategies Among Medical Interns in a South Indian Tertiary Hospital.” Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine 36.3 (2014): 308–311. PMC. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.
Cox, Elaine, M.D.  “Doctor Burnout, Stress, and Depression: Not an Easy Fix.” U.S. News and World Report, 12 Apr 2016, Accessed 15 Apr. 2017.  http://health.usnews.com/health-news/patient-advice/articles/2016-04-12/doctor-burnout-stress-and-depression-not-an-easy-fix

Ofri, Danielle.  “The Darkest Year of Medical School: Students Come in Altruistic and Empathetic.  They Leave Jaded and Bitter.”  Slate, 4 Jun. 2013.  Accessed 16 Apr. 2017.


Price, Kenneth, David Harrison, and Joanne Gavin (2006) Withholding Inputs in Team Contexts: Member Composition, Interaction Processes, Evaluation Structure, and Social Loafing. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91(6), 1375-1384. Accessed 16 Apr. 2017. www.businesspsych.org

Sevencan F, Cayir E, Uner S.  “Burnout status of interns and associated factors.”, PMC, 2010 Oct-Dec;50(4):501-15.  Accessed 16 Apr. 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21375150

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