Letters to the Editor
To the Editor: In proposing residency wellness programs as a way to reduce burnout, Dr. Lefebvre1 pushes this issue into the limelight. However, there is a second issue in many of our institutions that must be dealt with at the same time—faculty role modeling. Residents will look first to their supervisors and mentors during times of distress to determine how to react. I recognize from my current position as an academic pediatrician that we faculty are inconsistent role models of physician wellness. For wellness programs to work, I propose that we as academic faculty must show that we can follow the adage “Physician, heal thyself.” We have to promote the idea that our own self-care affects our trainees and ultimately patients. In the rest of this letter, I offer some suggestions of how to do this.
In a survey of Quebec physicians, many respondents alluded to a culture of “workaholism” among physicians and a stigma attached to their seeking professional help.2 To remove this stigma, I suggest that wellness programs for both residents and faculty emphasize how such programs contribute to an environment of patient safety. An ideal way to do this is to publicize that mindfulness training in wellness programs reduces physician errors.
In addition, we need to demonstrate repeatedly that an atmosphere of physician wellness leads to improved quality of patient care.
Finally, a recent cross-sectional survey by Shanafelt et al3 emphasizes that time spent in a meaningful activity has a strong inverse relationship with risk of burnout. Perhaps in emphasizing and implementing self-care, we will become able to rediscover the meaning and satisfaction in our daily work.
I applaud Dr. Lefebvre’s message and work. I recommend that all of us in academic medicine re-examine how to generate buy-in for wellness programs by physicians at all levels. Perhaps in the current climate of acceptance of quality improvement, those of us who are physicians can retrain ourselves to accept our own well-being as a part of effective patient service.
Sheela Rao, MD
Assistant professor of pediatrics, Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California; firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Lefebvre DC. Perspective: Resident physician wellness: A new hope. Acad Med. 2012;87:598–602
2. Blais R, Safianyk C, Magnan A, Lapierre A. Physician, heal thyself: Survey of users of the Quebec Physicians Health Program. Can Fam Physician. 2010;56:e383–e389
3. Shanafelt TD, West CP, Sloan JA, et al. Career fit and burnout among academic faculty. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169:990–995