Editor's note: The 2017 AAP National Conference & Exhibition will take place from Sept. 16-19 in Chicago.
An estimated 700 people attended the Pediatrics for the 21st Century program Friday to learn how to promote health and wellness for themselves, their colleagues, and their practices and institutions.
The serious — and sometimes deadly — ramifications of physician burnout require doctors to address personal and professional obstacles to their own wellness. And leaders must step up to find solutions for the benefit of their institutions, practices and employees.
Those were key points highlighted by panel members at Friday’s preconference Pediatrics for the 21st Century (Peds 21) program. Titled “Pediatricians Leading Change in Physician Health and Wellness,” the daylong program was moderated by Melanie Brown, MD, FAAP, an integrative medicine physician at University of Minnesota.
One of every two physicians is suffering or has suffered from burnout, said Hilary McClafferty, MD, FAAP, immediate past chair of the AAP Section on Integrative Medicine Executive Committee. She noted that burnout has increased across specialties from 2011 to 2014.
“We know the toll of burnout is very significant,” she said. “…We know, too, this must be addressed on a systems level.”
Symptoms of burnout may include emotional exhaustion, a lack of joy, loss of feeling of personal accomplishment and concerns about making medical errors. These are exacerbated by long work hours and failure to maintain one’s physical and mental health. Audience members also brought up concerns with credentialing requirements, overemphasis on metrics and efficiency, demands of electronic health records, and workplace discrimination.
“There are tremendous problems with work-life balance,” said New York psychiatrist Carol Bernstein, MD. She prefers to call it work-life integration. But self-care is not in conflict with altruism, she added. “What’s important is to figure out what works for us.”
One cause of burnout is a chronic mismatch between individual workers and their work setting, said David Schonfeld, MD, FAAP, a member of the AAP Disaster Preparedness Advisory Council who advises individuals and groups recovering from mass disasters. While structural, procedural or cultural changes in an organization can help reduce these mismatches, the individual’s efforts to address burnout are important, he said.
To help cultivate resilience, physicians should ask themselves what is going well in their lives and identify strengths, Dr. McClafferty suggested.
All of the panel members said while burnout is not simple to solve, it is essential for administrators and medical organizations to address the problem.
“Leadership is critical…. Culture change is really important,” Dr. Bernstein noted.
Physician burnout also negatively impacts institutions’ bottom lines, leading to absenteeism and recruitment problems — all with a significant cost, said Dr. Schonfeld. Administrators often say their primary concern is their workforce, but all too often they don’t appear to invest in their workforce.
In her keynote address, Janet Serwint, MD, FAAP, pediatric residency director at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, highlighted the importance of humanism in medicine, giving examples from her own career.
“We must be nourished ourselves,” she said, “to maintain our work as humanistic providers.”
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