Physicians are expected to provide compassionate, error-free care while navigating systemic challenges and organizational demands. Many are burning out. While organizations are scrambling to address the burnout crisis, physicians often resist interventions aimed at enhancing their wellness and building their resilience. The purpose of this research was to empirically study this phenomenon.
Constructivist grounded theory was used to inform the iterative data collection and analysis process. In spring 2018, 22 faculty physicians working in Canada participated in semistructured interviews to discuss their experiences of wellness and burnout, their perceptions of wellness initiatives, and how their experiences and perceptions influence their uptake of the rapidly proliferating strategies aimed at nurturing their resilience. Themes were identified using constant comparative analysis.
Participants suggested that the values of compassion espoused by health care organizations do not extend to physicians, and they described feeling dehumanized by professional values steeped in an invincibility myth in which physicians are expected to be “superhuman” and “sacrifice everything” for medicine. Participants described that professional values and organizational norms impeded work–life balance, hindered personal and professional fulfillment, and discouraged disclosure of struggles. In turn, participants seemed to resist wellness and resilience-building interventions focused on fixing individuals rather than broader systemic, organizational, and professional issues. Participants perceived that efforts aimed at building individual resilience are futile without changes in professional values and sustained organizational support.
Findings suggest that professional and organizational norms and expectations trigger feelings of dehumanization for some physicians. These feelings likely exacerbate burnout and may partly explain physicians’ resistance to resilience-building strategies. Mitigating burnout and developing and sustaining a resilient physician workforce will require both individual resistance to problematic professional values and an institutional commitment to creating a culture of compassion for patients and physicians alike.