First, Heal Thyself
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.