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Design Physician Wellness Activities Around Health, Not Discipline

Liz Jones, May 14, 2010

"Vacations will only get you so far. Hospitals should create a workplace that supports peoples' attention to their own needs," says Michael Krasner, MD, associate professor in the department of internal medicine at the University of Rochester in New York.

Try these culture-shifting activities:

  • Educational offerings that focus on physician wellness and personal care and how they connect to the objectives of the institution.
  • Confidential support groups for physicians and residents suffering from stress
  • Dedicated time at medical staff or other administrative meetings for physicians to share some of their patient care experiences

Whatever the activity, it should focus on community, says Krasner, author of "Association of an Educational Program in Mindful Communication With Burnout, Empathy, and Attitudes Among Primary Care Physicians," in the September 23/30, 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. "A lot of physicians feel isolated, and they don't feel a sense of community. What medical institutions and staff can do is think of ways in which they can improve the sense of community and belonging to create a time and place for people to support each other," Krasner says.

Any member of a physician wellness committee or program should understand that burnout is more than just being tired, and it will take more than a nap to overcome it. Burnout can lead to depression, and, in some cases, suicide. It can have many manifestations, as well. For example, a physician experiencing burnout may turn to alcohol or other substances, may suffer from sleep deprivation, or may be experiencing marital problems due to burnout. Members of the physician wellness committee and administrators should be on the lookout for signs of distress.

Regardless of how the burnout manifests, Anderson Spickard, Jr., MD, emeritus professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, recommends that the physician wellness committee should address prevention, early identification, treatment, relapse prevention, and re-entry into work.

Of course, if a physician commits an egregious act, such as rape or assault, medical staff leaders and hospital administrators should take immediate disciplinary action or terminate the physician. But for those physicians who do not pose an immediate threat, it is worth the effort to help them get back on track—your recruiting budget will thank you for it.


Liz Jones is an associate editor with HCPro, Inc. She writes Medical Staff Briefing, Hospitalist Leadership Advisor, and Credentialing & Peer Review Legal Insider. She can be reached at ejones@hcpro.com.

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