“Who is responsible for physician well-being?”
We’ve all heard it—physicians are in trouble. We suffer a higher rate of burnout and suicide than the general population. Physicians are leaving practice prematurely, exacerbating the existing physician shortage. Recruitment challenges due to increasing turnover of physicians is incredibly costly, both in dollars and in health outcomes.
Physician well-being is a term that has, for a number of years now, been thrown around frequently, often synonymously with the words “burnout”,” wellness”, “health”, and even “suicide”. While the topic is increasingly widely discussed in medical education circles, in the professional literature and in the lay media, there is still a lot of work to do to define what is meant by these terms, better understand and address the underlying causes, and develop effective strategies to recognize and treat burnout and related disorders. Too often in the past well-being has been dumped back on the profession as something of our own making. The “take a yoga class and you’ll be fine” approach has often prevailed, giving medical students, residents and practicing physicians full responsibility for the problem and for finding solutions, ignoring the sustained effects of a “tough it out” culture, the changes in demands on physicians in our workplaces and the increasingly challenging and toxic environments that many of us find ourselves in from medical school onward.
It is clear that decline in physician well-being affects more than just the individual physician. Early retirements, poor retention, absenteeism, decreased productivity and sinking morale compromise our lives, the quality of care we can provide and the health of our systems. Health systems, payers, government and our communities must have a stake in improving the situation. Collectively we physicians need to demand that our systems, workplaces and other partners join with us to develop meaningful and strategic investments in our physician workforce, from medical school through retirement.
Recent articles, “Physician wellness across the professional spectrum” by family physician Russell Blackwelder and colleagues (in Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice, 2016-06-01, Volume 43(2), pp355-361), and “Helping the healer: population-informed workplace wellness recommendations for physician well-being” by Elizabeth Brooks and colleagues (in Occupational Medicine 2018;68:279-281) begin a dialogue that addresses the role that health systems, accreditors, medical schools and residencies and society at large play in both contributing to and addressing the decline in physician well-being. These and other resources are changing the discussion as we look to move physician wellness front and center from its current position in the self-help aisle.
Here at the Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians, we are committed to addressing this issue across the state, but we need your help. Don’t just stand on the sidelines. Volunteer for the WAFP Physician Well-being Workgroup or tell us your story. How is the issue of physician wellness playing out in your world? What are the positive and negative factors in your life, workplace, health system or community? To get more information, volunteer for the WAFP Physician Well-being Workgroup, or share your experiences, submit a suggestion, request, or story, please click the tab below:
You can also use the Contact tab at our website. Join us in making the practice of medicine healthier, safer and more rewarding for us all.
Lisa Dodson, MD