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Hank Spring 2016

See the whole issue

First, Heal Thyself

Katie Richardson, MD

Katie Richardson, MD, master juggler: pediatrician, director of Physician Experience for the Colorado Permanente Group, the mom of an 11-year-old daughter—and expert stressbuster.

Doctors aren’t immune to stress—and teams can be a key element in keeping burnout at bay

Katie Richardson, MD, is a master juggler: She’s a pediatrician at Highlands Ranch Medical Office in Colorado two days a week and the director of Physician Experience for the Colorado Permanente Group (CPMG) the rest of the week; she’s a sponsor of the CPMG Physician Wellness Committee; and at home, she’s the mom of an 11-year-old daughter. Dr. Richardson recently talked about the pressures of practicing medicine and what the Colorado region is doing to help its doctors sidestep stress and burnout.

Q: Why do so many doctors suffer from stress and burnout?

A: As physicians, in general we are not as good at taking care of ourselves as we are at taking care of others. We don’t tend to ask for help—and we need to change that culture. There are a lot of clinicians out there who are suffering and they don’t recognize the signs of burnout or know what to do.

Q: What happens when physicians are burned out?  

A: We are the leaders of the health care team. We’re trained to solve diagnostic dilemmas and do what is best for our patients. If we’re burned out, we may not think through our decisions as well. Healthy, happy physicians take better care of their patients. We want to make sure that we take care of our physicians.

Q: How do you help doctors deal with stress?

A: We know this is a high-pressure environment and look for resiliency in our physician hiring process, which helps us identify candidates who have experience managing stress. In addition, our yearly physician survey includes questions around burnout and resilience. We use that information to identify strategies to improve the physician experience.

We are trying to foster conversations around stress and burnout. We’re encouraging physician chiefs to meet with their physicians regularly and ask, “How are you doing?” Educating providers to look for signs that they might be experiencing stress, as well as providing education about available resources, will help. The first step is letting people know we are aware there is an issue.

Stress/Signs of Stress - Color Dr. Richardson’s Advice on Managing Stress

Stress getting the better of you? Try these reducers:

  • Work with your team. The team can help improve processes so the day-in and day-out workload is more manageable. An engaged team helps you provide better care. Participating in team functions—whether it’s a meeting, a potluck or a walk—helps build relationships.
  • Find a shoulder to lean on. Having a friend at work makes a big difference and it helps provide a sense of community.
  • Ask for help! In Colorado, physicians who are in distress can see a psychiatrist, a licensed clinical social worker (our behavioral health and wellness specialist), or they can get an outside referral for care. A peer support network is also available.
  • Feed your passion. We became physicians to help others. We need to nurture each other and feed our growing interests.
  • Take a fresh approach. Last year, our Human Resources department offered a pilot program in mindfulness-based stress reduction. The six-week course, which included physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners, proved so popular that it will be offered again this year.
  • Eat, sweat, laugh. Eating healthy and exercise helps with stress. Managing your own healthy work-life balance is a journey, but one worth the effort. I’ve gotten back to eating healthier and exercising. When I do that, I feel a ton of benefit. Finally, spend time with those who make you feel good. Spending time with my 11-year-old daughter is huge. We laugh a lot.



The first step is letting people know we are aware there is an issue.

Katie Richardson, MD
Pediatrician, Highlands Ranch Medical Office, Colorado
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