“Physician burnout is an occupational hazard”

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Physician burnout has been recognized for over 20 years and there has been an explosion of research on the topic in the last 10. Organizations are now beginning to recognize the toll it takes on the healthcare system and the provision of care. The Canadian Medical Association appointed Dr. Caroline Gérin-Lajoie to the new position of vice president of physician health and wellness in October 2018 in part to address the growing need for solutions. Dr. Gérin-Lajoie spoke to a full house at the VGH Physician Hub for Engagement and Wellness recently in a talk entitled Strategies and Systems Change to Mitigate Physician Burnout.

“Physician burnout is an occupational hazard,” she stated. “It is a work-related phenomenon and it’s also a quality and safety issue. This is some of the language that we need to use when addressing burnout with leadership. We need to make the value proposition to administration.”

Unwell physicians are estimated to cost the Canadian healthcare system $200 million a year, making a business case to reduce burnout and promote engagement. Physician burnout leads to a lower quality of care and decreased patient satisfaction as well as increased medical errors.

Solutions to burnout
“There is no magic solution; we’re all different and each of us needs to search for what makes us resilient,” said Dr. Gérin-Lajoie. She also pointed to studies that indicate while individual interventions such as mindfulness, exercise, and communication skills can result in small reductions in burnout, these work better when organizations make systemic changes like rescheduling shifts, reducing workloads, and enhancing teamwork and leadership.

“Organizations need to acknowledge that burnout is a problem and assess it,” she added. “We need to cultivate community at work and align our values to strengthen that culture. Administrators need to promote flexibility as well as work-life integration and provide resources to encourage resiliency and self-care. Some healthcare organizations are now creating positions such as chief physician wellness officer, who acts as a voice at leadership meetings. There needs to be leadership training to co-design solutions that make sense. We need more research and to invest in possible solutions.”

What the CMA is doing
The 2017 CMA National Physician Health Survey found that a third of respondents had experienced burnout, making the issue a priority for the organization. CMA is conducting a national analysis to help build a more comprehensive understanding of the landscape of physician health and wellness in Canada, including a review of existing structures, programs and processes, as well as assessing opportunities for the future.

What VPSA is doing
Physician wellness has long been a priority for your Vancouver Physician Staff Association, and we follow many of the best practices put forward by Dr. Gérin-Lajoie.

Our Community Building and Wellness Task Group focuses on building our VPSA physician community both via networking events and through a focus on wellness and physician resiliency-building activities that are of interest to members. Through the hard work of task group member Dr. Lesley Wood, for instance, VPSA was able to secure Dr. Gérin-Lajoie for her presentation.

VPSA also worked closely with VCH to develop a Physician Wellbeing Steering Committee. This group formed in 2019 and is tasked with making recommendations as to the how physician wellbeing is measured throughout the Vancouver Communities of Care along with identifying system level approaches to improving physician wellness. The committee is finalizing a staff wellness survey and is looking towards collecting data this fall. Results will inform initiatives and interventions taken by both the VPSA and VCH to enhance the wellbeing of our physician community.

We encourage you to attend our sessions as well as join our groups to advocate for physician health and wellness.

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