To the Editor:
In their article,1 Drs. Jennings and Slavin have provided a timely and critical call to action from leaders in the medical field to combat burnout. As the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education calls for more education on resident wellness, it is incumbent on residency training programs throughout the United States to respond swiftly and proactively.
In my role as an assistant residency director at a large Level I Trauma Center for emergency medicine residents, I am witnessing firsthand the imbalance between burnout and wellness amongst our trainees. As we strive to intervene and optimize training conditions, we must first better identify the complex elements that lead our doctors down a path toward emotional exhaustion and depersonalization. Since graduating residency, I have had the unfathomable experience of having a former co-resident commit suicide and have witnessed several other colleagues contemplate a premature exit from medicine.
Many physicians enter the field with aspirations of connecting with patients and providing valuable medical care. However, doctors are facing a modern health care environment that values efficiency over the doctor–patient relationship, metrics over quality of care, and bottom-line profits over physician wellness. It makes sense that under these conditions U.S. physicians are suffering more burnout than other American workers. What can leaders in the medical field do to combat this epidemic? I strongly believe that a national movement is necessary to address wellness and burnout early in training. Residency programs are well positioned to spearhead this effort during the earliest stages of a physician’s career.
Leaders in residency training programs can begin immediately by performing a local needs assessment amongst their respective physicians. By identifying the degree of burnout and associated local stressors, programs can begin to develop targeted education and strategies to promote physician wellness.2 In addition to identifying local issues, institutions nationwide have a great opportunity to collaborate in creating standardized interventions common to all residents and physicians. Ultimately, joint research projects and innovative approaches in wellness education and burnout prevention can flourish and guide us toward developing best practices.
For the sake of our current and future physicians, the time has come for leaders in medical education and their governing bodies to mobilize and join the fight against physician burnout.
Ramin R. Tabatabai, MD
Assistant professor of clinical emergency medicine, Keck School of Medicine of USC, and assistant program director, LAC+USC Emergency Medicine Residency, Los Angeles, California; firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Jennings ML, Slavin SJ. Resident wellness matters: Optimizing resident education and wellness through the learning environment. Acad Med. 2015;90:12461250.
2. Lefebvre DC. Perspective: Resident physician wellness: A new hope. Acad Med. 2012;87:598602.