To the Editor:
We applaud Dr. Law and colleagues for their article “Changes in Personal Relationships During Residency and Their Effects on Resident Wellness: A Qualitative Study.”1 Resident burnout has overwhelming implications for the well-being of residents, their social supports (e.g., significant others, children, and friends inside and outside of medicine), and patients. We wish to suggest low-cost wellness initiatives to enhance each of the relationships identified by Dr. Law and colleagues to reduce symptoms of burnout.
Significant others often help residents by providing sympathy and accepting “venting sessions.” One participant in Law and colleagues’ study noted that his significant other helps him reflect on the stresses of making life-and-death decisions. Given the importance of partners, we suggest hosting a “Significant Other Day” during which residents’ partners or close friends can take a tour of the hospital or clinic, meet their partners’ co-residents and other colleagues, and experience firsthand the clinical learning environment that they so frequently hear about. Knowing that a partner now more deeply “understands what I’m going through” may be a useful way to enhance an already-supportive relationship between residents and their loved ones.
Another resident in the article thanked his wife (who is also a full-time physician) for taking primarily responsibility for household duties and coordinating child care; another participant struggled with his partner’s resentment for being away from their child while at work. Residents with children may feel particularly isolated from social events because of competing priorities. We advocate the creation of resident-parent support groups through which residents with children can share tips on juggling medical responsibilities and family life.
Finally, participants noted they were unable to make social commitments with friends because of a rigid training schedule. We would suggest strengthening friendships among residents at work by creating a “big brother/big sister” program between interns and junior/senior residents to foster mentorship academically and personally. Additionally, monthly e-mails from chief residents detailing personal events (weddings, children’s achievements, hobbies, vacations, pets, and the like) could foster communication among residents.
We believe Dr. Law and colleagues1 have done an excellent job examining the role of personal relationships on wellness and burnout in residents; however, once these problems have been elucidated, useful, concrete, and easily deliverable interventions must follow. We anticipate that our suggestions above—all low-cost strategies—may strengthen support systems for already-exhausted physicians-in-training.
Flint Y. Wang, MD
Assistant professor, Clinical Medicine, Section of Hospital Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; email@example.com.
Jennifer S. Myers, MD
Professor, clinical medicine, director, Quality & Safety Education, and director, Center for Healthcare Improvement and Patient Safety, Department of Medicine, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
1. Law M, Lam M, Wu D, Veinot P, Mylopoulos MChanges in personal relationships during residency and their effects on resident wellness: A qualitative study. Acad Med. 2017;92:1601–1606.