Careers

Physician Well Being

This page offers resources for physicians of all ages and career stages to help you find joy and meaning in your work. Below, find information on the meaning of joy in medical practice, the immediate crisis of physician burnout, tools for transforming your practice into a less stressful work environment, strategies to embrace meaning and awareness in your own life, and more.

This PowerPoint has been created to help you, our members, improve your own state of wellbeing in both your professional and personal lives. We encourage you to download and share this information with your colleagues and employers as you see fit.

The AAFP introduced Physician Health First, the first-ever comprehensive initiative devoted to improving physician well-being. As part of the initiative, the AAFP launched an interactive web portal with a wealth of well-being resources for members.

We all intuitively know what burnout looks like, but the progression of the main symptoms- exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy- may not be the same for everyone. Learn about the early warning signs and how to make a change before it gets too far.

Burnout may be most noticeable in physicians, but it starts in medical school and residency. Here’s what we can do about it.

Finding Joy In Practice

Regaining joy in practice is crucial, but not a simple task. Preventing burnout starts with the individual physician and the attitudes that they bring to their practice and daily life. Many physicians have found that focusing on meaning, mindfulness, and resilience skills greatly help as they seek joy in their work.

Check out a few tools below.

How to switch from burnout to resilience.

A perspective on how family physicians can find meaning in their work and rediscover the joy in their practice.

How mindfulness saved one oncologist’s practice and transformed his perspective on patient care. Includes a short, simple exercise for you to start trying mindfulness as well.

Helpful tips on reevaluating negative thought patterns and making a plan for preventing burnout.

The AMA has developed a series of modules focusing on wellness, resiliency, and preventing burnout, as well as other useful topics.

Wisconsin Medical Society recently surveyed physicians to find what factors in the workplace are most satisfying and least satisfying. See their results and opportunities to make change.

System changes

While physicians can certainly make changes in their own lives to create balance and joy, the problem of burnout won’t disappear unless employers and medical educators also embrace a physician wellness as a priority. Here’s what a few employers, residency programs, and medical schools are doing to combat burnout in the workplace and help train happier doctors.

Stanford’s Balance in Life program focuses on the professional, physical, psychological, and social health of residents through mentorship and a variety of creative interventions.

Residents understand the problem of burnout and have many ideas, some large and some easy to implement, on how to create a healthier, more successful educational experience. Here are some of their ideas.

Resources for Students and Residents

“Meet the exigencies of practice with firmness and courage, without, at the same time, hardening ‘the human heart by which we live.’”

William Osler MD,
Aequanimitas

Medical students have always had to weigh the disheartening rigors of clinical training with the idealism that drive them to medicine originally. Fellow students and residents offer advice on surviving the challenges of medical education with your sense of humanism and compassion unscathed.

One doctor’s excellent perspective on maintaining humanism, purpose, and imagination throughout a medical career.

Students risk losing the humanistic values that drew them to medicine when they encounter the “hidden curriculum” of medical education that emphasizes detachment and competence over compassion. Learn how this might be at play in your education, and how to immunize yourself from its effects.

A resident’s thoughtful reflection on burnout in medical school and how positive physician leadership made the difference.

Medical students have a bad habit of mentally living in the future and planning for the next step at the expense of being aware of the present. Here’s a medical student perspective on how mindfulness can make you a better doctor and help you live a happier life.

Writing and reflection help medical students make sense of their new and often stressful experiences in a healthy, positive way.

How active self-awareness, literature, and a dedication to self-care helped a doctor retain and cultivate his humanity throughout medical training.

Resources for New Physicians

Physicians just starting their careers face significant changes to their work and home life. With the intense demands of finding a job and getting established in your practice, it’s easy to become stressed, discouraged, and burned out.

Here are some resources on how to start your career on the right foot and set yourself up for a meaningful, fulfilling career and life.

The term “work-life balance” is often thrown around as something to strive for, but doesn’t always describe reality. Here’s why you might want to think of a “work-life dynamic equilibrium” instead.

AAFP resources on creating a balance between work and home during the busy beginning of your career.

Being a physician in a rural environment comes with its own set of challenges. Here’s stories of how rural female doctors build successful, fulfilling practices and also engage with family and other commitments.

AAFP resources on how new physicians can avoid burnout as they start their careers and establish meaningful, joyful careers for the long term.

Resources for Mid-Career and Older Physicians

Mid-career physicians often experience high levels of stress and burnout, while older physicians appear to be more resilient to the effects of burnout. These doctors attribute their happiness to greater life experience and clinical wisdom that helps them find meaning and joy in their work. 

Source: Secrets to psychological success: why older doctors might have lower psychological distress and burnout than younger doctors. Peisah C, Latif E, Wilhelm K, Williams B. Aging Ment Health. 2009 Mar;13(2):300-7.

Below, successful physicians share stories of how they found happiness throughout their careers.

Burnout expert Dr. Dike Drummond has gone from a burned-out physician to a wellness coach helping other doctors recover from burnout and find happiness in their careers. For practical tips, see his articles, which were recently featured in Family Practice Management.

The majority of Wisconsin physicians are employed by groups of 50 or more, and this employment situation brings unique challenges for physicians. This is how employed physicians can create balance and avoid burnout.

Physicians who are burned out often ignore the signs until it becomes unbearable. Here’s one physician’s story of how he experienced burnout after years of practice, and how you can identify and stop burnout before it gets too late.

How successful physicians stay human and find meaning in their work despite the challenges of the job.

Family, friends, humor, hobbies, and more. Physician leaders share their strategies for avoiding burnout and staying happy in their jobs.

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