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“Ending Physician Burnout” Global Summit Puts Spotlight on Clinicians’ Mental Health
“I’m just going through the motions; I’ve lost my ability to care. I’m numb. When will it end?” Ten years ago, those were the words of Cardiologist Dr. Jonathan Fisher. Today, those thoughts still reflect the feelings of many clinicians—and it’s a reality that has only gotten worse thanks to an unbalanced work-life balance, unrealistic documentation demands and a global pandemic.
Enter the first-ever Ending Physician Burnout Global Summit, created by Dr. Fisher himself. Held online in August 2021, the summit was the culmination of a year-long effort to gather insights and contributors for a three-day event focused solely on the mental health of clinicians. In the end, it became the exact resource that Dr. Fisher says he had always wished for as he struggled through years of anxiety, depression, and burnout.
The Time for an Organizational Shift is Now
“People don’t always realize that doctors are struggling—struggling in a sense of moral injury where often we’re forced into situations where our core sense of empathy and compassion is compromised relating to resources or other issues.” Fisher said. “Some of our institutions are doing an absolutely amazing job of supporting the well-being of physicians through coaching and other resources, and yet, there needs to be a massive organizational shift in the way we do business and the business of healthcare.”
With that goal in mind, Fisher kicked off the summit with the help of 80 world-class speakers who provided information and insights across 56 different sessions. The timing was spot-on, as the summit coincided with the onset of the COVID-19 Delta variant—the straw that seemingly broke the camel’s back for many clinicians who were already struggling.
Pandemic Pushed Clinicians to the Brink
“There was no adequate preparation for the heaviness of the pandemic,” said Natasha Abadilla, MD, and first-year pediatric neurology resident at Stanford University School of Medicine.
“Attendings, residents and students are burnt out because of a thick layer of emotional and medical trauma.”
These concerns are clearly shared by many. The article cites a Medscape study in which, while a significant number of doctors reported burnout before the pandemic, for more than one in five, severe burnout started with the pandemic. Causation factors listed include watching families suffer, difficult working conditions and long hours.”
The Importance of Self-Care for Physicians
It is exactly these factors—and many others—that were introduced when the Ending Physician Burnout Global Summit kicked off. As the opening keynote speaker, James Doty, MD, Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery at Stanford University in California began by discussing the importance of letting physicians actually practice medicine. Novel concept, right? When it comes to the large array of administrative tasks that are now piled on physicians’ plates, there’s too much interfering with their ability to do just that.
According to the article “Ending Physician Burnout Global Summit: 3 Days in August to Recharge Physicians” by Physician’s Weekly, Dr. Doty’s remarks also highlighted the harsh reality of what physicians face every day. “So many of us do not do adequate self-care, being compassionate to self,” he explained. “It is common with healthcare professionals that they are so intent on being of service to others that they get lost and then no longer care for themselves.”
At the end of his session, a wellness coach spoke to attendees to further emphasize the importance for physicians to make their mental and physical health a priority—and suggested solutions they could implement immediately.
Three Days of Invaluable Insights and Advice
There were valuable lessons throughout the three-day summit, each aiming to give physicians tools and ideas to improve their own outlook as well as their overall workplace. Day one’s Thriving Physician session included titles like “Building a Culture in Medicine to Safeguard the Well-being and Job Satisfaction of Our Workforce,”, along with “Beating Burnout—What’s Leadership Got to Do with It?” and “Creating Culture in Healthcare: Lessons from the Full Risk Model of Care.”
Day two’s Thriving Organization theme focused more on the administrative side of healthcare and organizational expectations. One of the speakers on this day, Thom Mayer, MD and Medical Director of the National Football League Players Association and clinical professor of emergency medicine at George Washington University in Washington, DC, urged participants to “identify things that you love about work—and maximize it; find things that you hate and eliminate them, and determine what can be tolerated and minimize it.”
On Day 3, the speakers honed in on what it takes to not only create “A Thriving Culture,” but maintain it. Interesting sessions included “Career Sustainability for Physicians” and “Healing Healthcare Systems: Organizational Well-being and Resilience.”
Things Can—and Will—Get Better
It was an eye-opening summit for the 750-plus virtual attendees—one that not only broached difficult topics, but also offered solutions to help do better moving forward. And, above all else, it reinforced the notion to every clinician in attendance that their feelings are valid, and they are not alone. In the end, that’s all that Dr. Fisher could have hoped for.
“It might have been helpful when I was a young doctor and resident,” Dr. Fisher said in the Physician’s Weekly article. “If there was one person in the world speaking out and saying that those of us who are trying to care for the rest of the world are suffering ourselves. It might have been helpful to hear that message.”
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