Physician Well-being – Overview
Physician well-being is a crucial issue in today’s healthcare system. Healthcare providers, including nurses, physician assistants, surgeons, and physical therapists, among others, are immersed in a challenging environment. They face demanding working schedules, high patient loads, and increasing clerical burdens.
In recent decades, efforts have been made worldwide to improve the quality of life of healthcare workers, recognizing the significance of their mental, physical, and emotional health. Preventing injurious health outcomes, such as burnout, substance abuse, and risk of suicide, get a high priority to improve the lives of those who care for people’s lives.
This article provides an overview of the challenges faced by physicians and the consequences of neglecting physician well-being, and outlines several strategies to promote and prioritize physician well-being.
What are the Challenges Faced by Physicians?
As technology and society advance, the healthcare environment increases its complexity. In the United States, there is currently a high demand for physicians, reflected in the increased workload physicians face in their practice.
Administrative activities have also increased, making physicians not only care for their patients but also for clerical activities, which are time-consuming and, in some cases, may hurt the physician-patient relationship.
It is remarkable that physicians face stressful situations in their workplace, not only regarding the care of their patients, as medicine deals with life-death situations, but also the stress implied in providing the best care possible for patients.
These aspects impact not only the way physicians deal with their activities but also their lives as a whole, impairing professional as well as personal relationships and commitments.
What are the Consequences of Neglecting Well-being?
Burnout is characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a reduced sense of accomplishment. Not every person has constant insight into their own well-being. Sometimes, the demands of a busy life can leave aside self-reflection and introspection, which are crucial for understanding the own problems and needs.
Burnout can have devastating effects on physicians’ quality of life and work output, impairing their overall activities, including professional as well as personal ones.
Some of the consequences of burnout include increased absenteeism, increased medical errors, reduced productivity, and higher turnover rates.
Substance use disorder:
Substance use disorder has the same prevalence in physicians as that in the general population. High stress in the workplace, physician burnout, previous substance use disorder, and mental conditions are risk factors for substance use disorder.
Risk of suicide:
People suffering from mental conditions and chronic stressful situations are at risk of committing suicide. Healthcare providers, especially those who were at the frontlines of the Covid-19 pandemic, are exposed to stressful situations, including exposure to human suffering or death and strong emotional situations with patients and their families.
Moreover, physicians can have access to one of the means of suicide: medications.
Much effort is ongoing to help people under these conditions and prevent this awful outcome.
How to Promote Physician Well-being?
The first step to improving and promoting physician well-being is to understand and recognize the problem. In the last decades, awareness of the negative consequences of neglecting well-being has made a call for action for physicians, administrators, and policymakers.
This has led to widespread efforts to improve the healthcare system, adopting strategies to promote healthcare workers’ health regarding several issues.
Workload and Schedule Optimization:
Constant efforts are made to adjust the workload of healthcare providers, with a focus on promoting a balanced work-life relationship. Many institutions have adopted ancillary workers to decrease the clerical burden on physicians, such as hiring medical scribes.
Ensuring adequate stuffing is also a relevant strategy since physicians are one of the most needed professionals in the USA.
These strategies can help in decreasing the load on physicians so they have more spare time for personal and professional growth.
Mental Support and Communication
Networks for mental support for healthcare workers are crucial for physicians to have a space to speak up for themselves and address any concerns about their mental health. It is important to promote a culture of open communication to help people address their issues and receive prompt support.
As a physician, it is important to stay motivated about healthcare since taking care of others might be a challenge in many different contexts, including those of a pandemic like Covid-19.
Promoting a Healthy Lifestyle
Applicable to any other person, a healthy lifestyle can help us support our mind and body in embracing the most challenging tasks. This includes having a regular exercise schedule and adapting diet habits according to the person’s preferences and workloads. It is also important to catch up with a good quality of sleep to help recover from the daily challenges and work to the full potential.
A great value many physicians may share is that of improving the standard of living of humanity, and helping people recover from many injuries or diseases. It is relevant for physicians to remember they also need to understand and protect this value in themselves.
Education and Training
Integrating resilience-building techniques, stress management, and self-care practices into medical education and continuing medical education equips physicians with the necessary knowledge to navigate challenges effectively and maintain their well-being.
Research on Healthcare Well-being
Many efforts are made currently to understand and improve physician well-being measurements and implementation. For example, the Mayo Clinic conducts programs on physician well-being based on the results of vast research data.
To this respect, there are many investigations made about how implementations in several institutions, as well as medical societies, foster the education of physician well-being strategies and implications.
As part of any workplace improvement strategy, those that foster physician well-being are under constant study and improvement. Identifying the problems that lead to mental and physical exhaustion in healthcare providers is crucial to keep workers healthy and improving the whole healthcare system’s value: people’s health.
While the strategies we present in this article are not exhaustive, we present what we think are the most relevant, which include actions that physicians can take to improve their lives and increase awareness of their own situation, taking actions when needed.
Healthcare professional well-being has experienced improvement over the last decades, and research is ongoing to improve the outcomes in this important field.
- Geuijen PM, van den Broek SJM, Dijkstra BAG, Kuppens JM, de Haan HA, de Jong CAJ, et al. Success Rates of Monitoring for Healthcare Professionals with a Substance Use Disorder: A Meta-Analysis. J Clin Med. 2021 Jan;10(2):264.
- Suicide Prevention for Healthcare Workers | Blogs | CDC [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2023 May 22]. Available from: https://blogs.cdc.gov/niosh-science-blog/2021/09/17/suicide-prevention-hcw/
Franco Cuevas is a physician who graduated from the National University of Córdoba, Argentina. He practices general medicine in the Emergency Department at Sanatorio de la Cañada, Córdoba. His focus is on writing medical content to improve physicians' access to relevant medical information for daily practice. He has participated in some research projects and has a special joy in teaching and writing about medical concepts.