Is it just me, or is everyone just starting to realize that physicians are people too?
We’ve all known for a long time that the healthcare paradigm shift of the last ten years means that doctors are overstressed, overwhelmed and overbooked. According to a 2017 Medscape survey reported by the American Medical Association (https://wire.ama-assn.org/life-career/report-reveals-severity-burnout-specialty), physicians from 27 specialties ranked their level of burnout on a scale of one to seven (seven meaning they considered leaving medicine). All but one specialty ranked their burnout at a level four or higher.
A harrowing article in The Washington Post revealed surprising stats about physician suicides in the United States. It was something that I never considered since my doctors have always appeared superhuman. As I think about all that they are expected to do to prepare for the profession, and the physical, emotional and spiritual struggles they witness each day, it should come as no surprise. Compassion fatigue doesn’t begin to describe it.
The impact of burnout on the life of a physician is discouraging enough, but what about the effect on patients? Will they lose a physician due to burnout? Will their physician make an innocent mistake because he/she is overwhelmed?
I think patients need to question what their hospital is doing to protect its physicians from burnout. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with physicians and executives with AMITA Health in the Chicago area and am impressed about their unique initiatives designed to promote physician well-being–some that have been going on for decades.
Guided by insights from The Coalition for Physician Well-being, some of AMITA Health’s unique interventions include:
- “Huddles” immediately following traumatic events (not just large scale ones)
- Free counseling sessions available to physicians with specialists outside of the health system
- A Medical Arts Program that encourages physicians to share their artwork in exhibitions and within their facilities
- “Creation Health” physician health and wellness opportunities to help them live life to the fullest
- International mission trip opportunities (and soon local mission opportunities)
- Physician Leadership Workshops to empower and engage physicians in highest-level decision-making
- Mentoring of new physicians by experienced doctors
- Small groups, Bible studies and more.
What are other hospitals doing? Stanford Medicine has implemented an interesting time-banking program for physicians to help avoid burnout. According to a 2014 CHA article, “Hospitals within Adventist Health System [based in Florida] have sponsored a variety of programs designed to foster communication and build relationships, from picnics to art shows, physician concerts, health screenings and prayer breakfasts.”
I’m researching ways that other health systems are looking out for the holistic needs of these folks. If physicians leave their work because the practice of healthcare robs them of their own mental, physical or spiritual health, we all lose.