VA/VC Physician Wellness Survey results reveal high levels of burnout

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“We are in the midst of a physician wellness crisis.”

That is how Dr. Lucy Lyons, one of three physician co-chairs of the VA/VC Physician Wellness Steering Committee, opened the presentation about the results of last fall’s wellness survey of VA and VC physicians. The results were presented at the May 10 VMDAS quarterly meeting.

“We wanted the survey to assess burnout but also its drivers and the underlying contributing factors including the impact of the pandemic on fatigue,” she said. “Another unique aspect of this endeavour has been the collaboration between medical staff and VCH in developing and administering the survey.”

Survey results
VCH Manager of Physician Engagement Neli Remo presented the survey results.

“The response rate was roughly 24 per cent of eligible physicians, with a range of 10 to 80 per cent depending on the department,” she noted. “51.4 per cent of respondents had experienced burnout with this rate ranging from 40 to 61.3 per cent depending on the department where respondents worked. The professional fulfillment rate was 25.3 per cent with a range of 22.3 to 35 per cent.”

Survey highlights can be found here.

Next steps
“VCH/VPSA funding is available to support next steps,” said VA/VC Physician Wellness Steering Committee co-chair Dr. Fahreen Dossa. “The committee is developing a transparent and accountable process to guide the submission of proposals. This funding will be prioritized for high opportunities groups that are ready and willing to move forward with wellness initiatives or that the survey has shown to have high levels of burnout.”

Other traditional sources of funding for QI projects may of course be considered. VCH/VPSA funding has also been secured for next steps of the project (e.g., focus groups). Currently, committee members are meeting with department and division heads to review department-specific data in more detail. Wellness champions may be identified within each department to help brainstorm and steer the focus of data-driven interventions.

The Emergency Department is already taking action. Dr. Zafrina Poonja is a co-chair of the VA/VC Physician Wellness Steering Committee and works in the ED.

“There’s a high burnout rate in the ED (49 per cent) so we met with the department heads to review the survey results,” she said. “Champions have been identified and we’ve created an interdisciplinary wellness team that includes both physician and nursing leadership. We’ll conduct our own internal survey and are preparing an inventory of existing and future projects to address the drivers of burnout. Once that’s done, we’ll review the results and prepare actionable items and plans for future interventions.”

“These are sobering results and a call to action,” concluded Dr. Lyons, referring to the overall VA/VC survey. “If you are inspired to get involved, please contact Neli Remo.”

During the VMDAS meeting, there was a request that the results of the survey be presented to the VCH board of directors. President Dr. Eric Yoshida has communicated this request to the VCH board.

“The survey results have significant implications for the profession, the hospital and society at large as burned-out physicians and surgeons cannot provide outstanding care,” said Dr. Yoshida. “Sometimes a patient’s life depends on a clinical performance that is beyond expectation and beyond the call of duty. Burned-out doctors may not be able to do that and in fact may perform below expectations. This issue needs attention.”

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