No matter where you live, healthcare seems to be in a continual state of flux. However, the pressures physicians and other healthcare providers face seems to be universal despite differences in provincial funding, resources and populations. Physician wellness has been a topic in several of my previous blog posts and remains an important concern for me.
Why is this topic so important?
In an informative study by Wallace and Lemaire (2009), the authors explored physician’s awareness between the connection of their well-being and patient care. Interestingly, their review of the literature highlighted some points about physician’s self care:
- Physicians are less likely to seek medical care for themselves and have a higher than average suicide rate.
- Physicians often use denial as an ineffective coping strategy.
- Physicians often do not turn to their colleagues for support.
- Physicians may be reluctant to seek help for fear it may be an indication of their inability to do their job.
In this study, Wallace and Lemaire interviewed physicians in order to answer 2 questions: 1) were their colleagues aware of the link between their well-being and patient care and 2) why they believed most of their colleagues were not aware of the link. What they determined is that almost half of the interviewees felt that physicians were not aware of the link and a third believed that physicians are unable to “actualize their knowledge of the link”. They concluded that one of the main reasons for these results stems from the culture of medicine where physicians are regarded as “super humans” and they must look after others before themselves. The other reason involves the excessive workload that contributes to their sense that they do not have time for self-care.
What can be done?
Awareness is one thing, but one needs to implement strategies and tools to provide results. We often see this in medicine, especially when it comes to health promotion. Advising a patient that they need to quit smoking, exercise more, and eat a healthy diet is almost redundant. Employing coaching techniques where you develop both a plan and goals with the patient will prove to be more successful. In turn, providing physicians with tools and ways to improve their well-being on a day-to-day basis will provide more actionable goals.
Some effective strategies to improve physician well-being might include:
- Introduce the importance of physician wellness in medical school and residency as part of the curriculum.
- Organize retreats for students and residents where they can connect with one another in a relaxing environment introducing stress management and personal development topics.
- Introduce opportunities for physicians to connect during their career without a medical focus such as conferences. Some ideas include: “lunch and learn” topics such as mindfulness, meditation and gratitude; develop physician wellness programs and retreats.
- Provide online tools, workbooks and resources for physicians that offer realistic ways to modify their work-life balance.
- Integrate physician’s families in activities and events involving self-care and wellbeing.
- Provide an area within a group practice, hospital or community health centre where yoga/fitness classes can be held at lunch.
Do you have any suggestions about improving physician well-being?
Wallace, J.E. & Lemaire, J. (October 2009). Physician well being and quality of patient care: An exploratory study of the missing link. Psychology, Health & Medicine, 14(5), 545-552.
Uallachain, G.N. (2008). Attitudes towards self-care: A survey of GP trainees. Irish Medical Journal, 100(6), 489-491.