Why physician wellness measurement counts

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We all know there is a health-care crisis and that the toll it is taking on physicians and other medical staff is enormous. Burnout is widespread among health-care providers. While physicians can take individual steps to promote their own self-care, systemic change is needed to make a significant difference to wellness. One of the ways we can argue for change at the organizational level is by measuring wellness within physician groups. The importance of this was the focus of a recent talk to VPSA members by physician wellness thought leader Dr. Jane Lemaire and her associate Garielle Brown from Well Doc Alberta/Well Doc Canada. The session was recorded and can be viewed here.

“About 80 per cent of the drivers of physician burnout originate within the work environment,” said Dr. Lemaire. “Factors like workload and job demands, control and flexibility, work/life integration, social support and community, organizational culture and values, efficiency and resources, and meaning in work are all part of our professional organizations. When they work well, we are engaged and dedicated to our work. When they are dysfunctional, we experience symptoms of burnout: exhaustion; cynicism; inefficacy.”

System-level change that can mitigate burnout can be targeted to individuals and to the organization. For individuals, this includes mindfulness, stress-reduction techniques, education around exercise, communication skills, nutrition, and self-confidence, and professional coaching. Changes such as rescheduling shifts, reducing workload, and enhancing teamwork and leadership are at the organizational level.

Garielle Brown is the Well Doc Alberta/Well Doc Canada evaluation and measures lead. She emphasized that physician wellness is an area of scientific study and, as such, there are tools available for measuring it. Occupational health scales include the Mayo Clinic Well-Being Index, the Stanford Model of Professional Fulfillment, the Mini Z burnout survey, and the Work-Life Integration Climate Scale. Each has its own advantages depending on what the goal of measurement is.

“Periodically measuring wellness within physician groups allows you to focus on identifying key drivers of wellness and unwellness specific to that work unit,” said Ms. Brown. “The goal of your measurement should determine what data is collected. Once you’ve identified troublesome hotspot areas, you can target areas for improvement.”

For measurement to drive positive change, she recommends groups identify realistic goals, choose the correct measures, engage leadership and group members, formally embed measurement as a system-level process, share the results with the group, provide support for interpretation of the results, provide opportunities for discussion around solutions, identify locus of control for change in the local context, and set realistic goals for timing and degree of positive changes.

VPSA conducted a wellness survey of its members in 2020 and is planning a follow-up survey this spring. The results of the 2020 study were sobering: more than half the respondents had experienced burnout. As a result, VPSA funded several initiatives including wellness projects for nine departments and divisions. There are plans to continue this program in the new fiscal year and we will soon be calling for applications. A commensality group pilot program was launched last September and further funding is earmarked for the new year with a call for proposals also anticipated soon. Keep your eye on your weekly Checkup newsletter for these opportunities and more.

Post-event survey findings

  • 24 of the 80 physicians who attended the event took part in the survey.
  • The event’s net promotor score was 35%, which is in line with previous presentations from recognized thought leaders in physician wellness.
  • 100% of respondents agreed they could leave the session explaining why it’s important to periodically measure wellness within physician groups.
  • 92% of respondents said that after this session they could describe the value of identifying key drivers of physician (un)wellness within physician groups.
  • 95% of respondents said they could summarize strategies for harnessing periodic physician wellness measurement to drive positive change.

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