Camaraderie Among Physicians Eases Effects of Burnout
March 25–31 is designated as National Physicians Week, and all of us at All Star Healthcare Solutions wish to express our gratitude for all the physicians caring for people during their most vulnerable moments. Indeed, your dedication shines through all year long.
While the pandemic has demanded much more of healthcare professionals, according to a USA Today-Ipsos poll conducted this past winter, the majority of providers questioned conveyed their satisfaction with their profession, with 73 percent agreeing with the statement, “I love working in healthcare.” And over half of those surveyed feel “hopeful,” “motivated,” and “optimistic” about going to work.
Still, the past two years have been rather extraordinary. Although physicians were impacted by burnout prior to COVID-19, the pandemic accentuated the need to support the well-being of doctors and other healthcare professionals.
The American Medical Association defines physician burnout as a long-term stressed reaction that can induce feelings of emotional exhaustion, lack of personal achievement, and even a decreased sense of empathy toward patients, sometimes referred to as compassion fatigue.
Recognizing the possible impact the increased workload could place on clinicians, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued several recommendations on how to cope with work-related pressures, including:
- Identify factors that cause stress.
- Ask about employer-supported mental health resources.
- Attend to your own health, including adequate sleep and nutrition.
- Communicate with supportive colleagues.
It’s this last suggestion that can make a remarkable impact on increasing personal and professional satisfaction under any circumstance.
A sense of mutual understanding among colleagues can help physicians develop resiliency against the effects of burnout. After all, who better understands what a doctor experiences on the job than another doctor? In fact, many hospital programs addressing physician burnout emphasize peer-to-peer initiatives.
But you don’t always need a formal program to encourage empathetic bonds. Relationships between colleagues that form naturally also serve as support networks, even those created through temporary connections.
When locum tenens physicians arrive at an assignment, they typically enter with a philosophy of embracing new experiences and meeting new people.
“I think locums can provide a window of opportunity to clear someone’s mind, see a different place, [and] be reminded of that original mission that we had to serve people,” says Michael Plotnick, MD, FACOG, an obstetrician/gynecologist, who has been practicing more than 35 years and is a member of the All Star Physician Advisory Board.
That positive, service-minded demeanor not only invites an equally cordial greeting from temporary co-workers, but it also can project a fresh light on the setting, patients, and colleagues. By being on site to help care for patients, you are lessening staff caseloads. Your assistance offers colleagues a bit of a respite, or at least frees up some time they can use to extend patient interactions, attend to other duties, or log fewer overtime hours. In a sense, this support doubles as a gesture of professional camaraderie.
Another supportive act is to serve as a sounding board for other doctors, whether in a consultative role on cases or as a fellow physician who has experienced similar circumstances of the job. Mental health specialists endorse the intrinsic value of co-workers checking in with one another. Even when done casually, this approach can solicit sincere responses and foster stronger relationships. These interactions also are moments to share joy, humor, and life philosophies. In other words, laying the foundation for professional relationships and personal friendships.
“Through locum tenens, I have built friendships that continue even after my assignments have ended…. I’ve enjoyed the extended group of friends I’ve gained,” says John Morrissey, MD, a pulmonology and critical care specialist, who has accepted several locum tenens contracts with All Star Healthcare Solutions.
As long as the impact of physician burnout remains a concern, one cannot undervalue the mental health benefit of peer support and camaraderie among physicians, be they full-time employees or short-term colleagues with whom they form long-term friendships.