Wellness funding creates more social supports for emergency physicians

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Our health-care system is in crisis and physician burnout is significant. A 2021 wellness survey carried out by the VCH Emergency Department identified a 75 per cent burnout rate among its 71 physicians and locums. While many drivers of stress can only be addressed at an organizational level, three Emergency Department members are acting as wellness champions for their colleagues: Drs. Ka Wai Cheung, Ariana Murata, and Zafrina Poonja.

“We know from research that physician wellness is driven by things like perceived meaning at work, workload and job demands, efficiency and resources, social support and community network… these are fundamental things that affect wellness and professional fulfillment,” said Dr. Cheung. “We realize there are some things we as individuals can change, and some we cannot. We have used our funding from VPSA to address social supports and meaning at work.”

Initially, the group held monthly wellness meetings with the department’s physician and nursing leaders. The focus soon changed as the group came to realize that one of the best ways to address social support and job fulfillment was to follow the Stanford Model of Professional Fulfillment, which has shown that facilitated small discussion groups can improve physician connection.

To that end, over the past year, the wellness champions organized several opportunities to get together including commensality groups, a department-wide pizza party in the park last summer, a family ice-skating party in December, and, most recently, a mini golf tournament. They also hired a wellness speaker, Jason Brooks, to talk about mental health.

“What we’re trying to do with these events is move the needle on burnout a little bit,” said Dr. Poonja. “During the pandemic, we were really missing coming together as a group. We wanted to re-energize ourselves by reproducing that sense of community. We’ve used our VPSA funding to try to re-engage that community and refuel us. The events provide a little reprieve and an opportunity to get to know each other outside of work and build personal relationships.”

“It’s important to have a positive and upbeat working environment,” said Dr. Murata. “A lot of the available funding is for other team members (nurses and allied staff) rather than for physicians. The funding from VPSA allows us to incorporate physicians into the whole wellness concept and the committee is a great way to do that. We’re very appreciative of the funding and hopeful that it will be renewed as there are many other activities we’d like to initiate.”

VPSA hopes to offer more wellness funding in the 2023/24 fiscal year. Watch this space for updates.

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