Six months after the program’s launch, Dr. West says program survey results revealed that approximately 95% of participants, who include rheumatologists, believed the meetings were valuable. So much so that after six months, many signed up again to meet with a different group.
Explore this issueJune 2017
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He suspects the reasons why the remaining physicians and research scientists don’t participate may be due to difficulty in finding time to meet, or perhaps, they prefer to keep their personal lives private. Either way, he says, medical schools train physicians not to complain about working long hours or stressful situations because it’s a sign of weakness.
“We have learned that issues of physician burnout are really rooted in our medical systems and organizations,” says Dr. West, adding that the menu for solutions to burnout has to be diverse. “Medical institutions need to take responsibility for providing healthy workplaces so that physicians can take the best possible care of themselves and their patients.”
Brigham & Women’s Hospital (BWH) in Boston doesn’t wait for doctors to be stressed or burned out. In 2008, the hospital opened its center for professionalism and peer support with initiatives that look at physician wellness from an organizational perspective, says Jo Shapiro, MD, otolaryngologist surgeon and center director.
One of the initiatives is a peer support program. Dr. Shapiro says she has trained more than 50 physicians at BWH representing different specialties (excluding those in mental health) to voluntarily serve as peer supporters who offer emotional first aid to doctors involved in stressful situations, such as an adverse event or taking care of a trauma victim, legal claim or serious patient complaint. The training program is a five-hour workshop.
“They learn how to do outreach, present alternatives and help doctors deal with their scenario,” says Dr. Shapiro, explaining that doctors are nominated by department chairs, faculty and residents to serve as peer supporters. “Sometimes, reaching out to someone is enough. Knowing the institution cares can help reduce stress.”
The center also developed a professionalism initiative that includes several components. One of them is a mandatory training program for the facility’s physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants on best practices for managing or navigating conflict. She says the mandatory, 90-minute workshop equips participants in how to deal with stressful situations to prevent them from escalating or causing unnecessary tensions or anxieties that contribute to physician burnout.
Another component is a behavioral accountability program. Any hospital employee who has concerns about a physician’s disruptive or nonprofessional behavior can report the doctor to the center, which “investigates the situation in a fair and respectful way,” says Dr. Shapiro, adding that since 2008, the center has handled concerns involving 405 physicians.