As part of a two-part series, Pinnacol Assurance recently published the article Healing our healers: Part one, examining the state of provider burnout, which is reaching epidemic proportions in the United States.
In this follow-up article, we want to present some innovative and practical solutions and resources to help physicians and other healthcare professionals find balance in their lives and work, reclaim their passion for the practice of medicine and embrace a sustainable state of well-being.
We’d like to thank the three local physicians who shared their knowledge, experience and insights: Lauren Grossman, MD, MPH, and Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Medical Director for Integrative Medicine at the University of Colorado Hospital; Dr. Patrick Kneeland, Executive Medical Director for Patient and Provider Experience at UCHealth; and Dr. Dianne McCallister, Chief Medical Officer at the Medical Center of Aurora and Spalding Rehabilitation Hospital.
Cultivating a Thriving Culture
As Dr. Patrick Kneeland observes, “Most physicians experience some version of burnout in their career.”
While physician burnout is pervasive throughout the medical field, it is wrong to think that it can be solved solely by the individual. Shifting the cultural needle toward wellness will require improving the efficiency of care and providing programs for leadership development as well as individual resiliency support.
“We must look at cultivating a thriving work environment to support healthcare professionals,” states Dr. Kneeland, who, along with his team, is developing tools to support his hospital’s systems, technology and the care team.
For example, Dr. Kneeland has implemented a “sprint” coaching program, which pairs coaches with doctors while they are working with electronic health records (EHR). The coaches provide real-time tips and solutions for how to more efficiently use the EHRs.
“We’ve successfully demonstrated that when you put resources toward work efficiencies, people’s satisfaction goes up and the trend toward burnout is decreased,” he says.
UCHealth is also actively combating burnout by providing leadership training and teaching time management. The medical center offers a unique course entitled Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time.
To support individual resiliency, Dr. Kneeland has rolled out a pilot program in collaboration with Life XT, a company that enhances performance through specific mindfulness practices. Forty physicians participated in one-on-one meetings, peer exchanges and mindfulness tutorials.
Four Components of Well-Being
Dr. Dianne McCallister, who serves as Chief Medical Officer and Patient Safety Officer at The Medical Center of Aurora (TMCA), is a national expert on physician well-being and co-founder of the Coalition for Physician Well-Being.
When Dr. McCallister stepped into her role at TMCA five years ago, physician satisfaction was quite low. She immediately initiated a comprehensive physician wellness and engagement program at the hospital, detailed below. Within one year, physician satisfaction doubled. Physician engagement scores at TMCA have continued to be in the top 10th percentile in the country for the past four years.
Dr. McCallister’s approach to creating physician well-being has four components: quality, culture, learning and resiliency.
Dr. McCallister suggests that a workplace well-being tool kit should include:
- A physician hotline. If a TMCA doctor finds something at the facility that is not functioning properly, he or she can call one number, and within 48 hours, a senior staff member personally responds with an update about how the problem is being resolved.
- A physician well-being committee. Dr. McCallister’s team includes a committee of leaders that play a key role in creating transparency and involving physicians in decision-making around issues that impact their work.
- Colleague meetings. It’s important to get doctors together to talk with peers about what’s important and what they are struggling with. Having a safe, facilitated place to talk helps improve resilience.
- An onboarding process. This helps physicians ease into a new practice, hospital or organization.
- Physician leadership training. It is extremely important, and medical schools typically don’t provide it.
- Showing gratitude and acknowledging the medical staff. Organizations, hospitals and other institutions can help physicians’ well-being immensely by handwriting thank-you notes, for example.
A Personal Journey to Wellness
Dr. Lauren Grossman, a dual-boarded physician in Integrative and Emergency Medicine, believes that each person defines health and wellness differently and begins their journey from a unique place. Today, she has her dream job as the Medical Director of Integrative Medicine at the University of Colorado Hospital. She is happy and leads a balanced life, but it wasn’t always this way. Mid-career, she experienced extreme burnout. She remembers becoming stressed and resentful while working in a job that she thought might literally kill her.
“When I was in this job, my health changed drastically,” she recalls. “My body was on high alert. It took me three years to recover from that experience.” That situation put her into “survival” mode, and she was just one step away from leaving medicine altogether.
Fortunately, she discovered and completed Dr. Andrew Weil’s two-year fellowship at the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, which introduced her to a new approach to medicine and sparked her own self-healing. Dr. Grossman describes this program as both “didactic and experiential.” During the program, she not only learned about subjects, such as nutrition, mindfulness and breath work, but was also able to practice them.
Dr. Grossman’s life is still busy; in addition to her work, she is a mother of four.
“I’m always busy,” she says, “But when I dedicate myself to an hour a day of centering myself, which includes practicing yoga, meditation or journaling, I feel like a new person.”
So how does she maintain a state of balance? Dr. Grossman’s personal keys to wellness include:
- Making time to get together with friends and colleagues.
- Being present for her kids.
- Walking her dogs on the open space trails in the Colorado foothills.
- Being disciplined about getting sleep.
- Being a healthy and mindful eater, including eliminating junk food from her diet.
Preventing illness and promoting wellness are cornerstones of her work, and Dr. Grossman is in the process of opening a specialty practice for healthcare professionals who are suffering from the effects of burnout.
In conclusion, remember that your best asset is you. Explore your artistic and creative interests, be grateful, commune with nature, spend quality time with others, laugh more, and never forget what called you to become a healer.
Tools and resources for physicians
- Colorado Physician Health Program
- Steps Forward from the American Medical Association
- The Coalition for Physician Well-Being
- The Mayo Clinic Physician Well-Being Program
- The Mindfulness App