Diversifying your portfolio

Susan Burke, CMS contributor

Colorado Medical Society has convened a panel of experts in physician health to better understand the concerns and needs of Colorado physicians, explore quality of life enrichment programs and innovate new ideas to help physicians.

The CMS Expert Panel on Wellness is the latest in the organization’s ongoing efforts to ensure physicians thrive personally and professionally throughout their careers – one of five strategic goals approved by the Board of Directors last year.

“Now more than ever, it is critical that we develop a pathway for physicians to integrate new healthy practices to achieve a work-life balance,” said CMS President F. Brent Keeler, MD. “Fortunately we are supported by an organization that places real importance on our professional and personal success—so much so that it is one of the pillars of strength in the CMS strategic plan.” CMS is one of the few medical associations across the nation to incorporate physician wellness into its strategic priorities and dedicate resources to establishing an expert panel on wellness.

The organization was inspired to do this when a member survey revealed the majority of physicians felt they are generally unable to have work-life balance and time for their “life outside of work.” Only half of respondents were satisfied they were able to live a healthy lifestyle with sufficient exercise and healthy diet; fewer were satisfied they were able to find time to relax with yoga, reading or other activities.

“The wellness panel is not only unique but given our survey data, it is also long overdue,” said CMS CEO Alfred Gilchrist. “Developing a wellness program is new to state medical associations and is breaking from the traditional lines of business that have been around for more than 30 years.”

Panel Chair Doris Gundersen, MD, a psychiatrist in private practice who is also the medical director for the Colorado Physician Health Program, also noted a recent AMA survey that found nine out of 10 physicians reported significant stress. Two-thirds of those physicians described their stress as having increased “moderately to dramatically”
over the past three years. And the rate of physician suicide is two to four times that of the general population, Gunderson said.

“Reports like these have inspired me to be more involved in the physician community and find ways to implement primary prevention strategies,” she added.

Model program
Recently, panel members spent time learning about a wellness program at Porter Adventist Hospital.
Wellness programs that are specific to physicians aren’t prevalent in health care communities, noted Doug Wysockey-Johnson, executive directorof Lumunos, a professional facilitation organization that worked with Porter administrators to create the program.

“There are a lot of people out there talking about wellness programs, but not a lot of action is being taken,” he said.

Porter Hospital created its program, Porter Colleagues, after CEO Randy Haffner and CMO Dianne McCallister, MD, started noticing their colleagues were burning out and frustrated. Some were advising their children to go into other professions.

“My heart was breaking for my colleagues,” McAllister said. “The collegiality formed by physicians sharing their thoughts and frustrations in the safe environment of the physician lounge had gone away and there hasn’t been a mechanism to replace it.”

More than 100 physicians participate in the program at some time during the year, and enjoy peer-to-peer camaraderie in social-oriented activities ranging from dinners at the CMO’s house to recreational outings and more formal monthly 30-minute meetings, weekly reflection e-mails and an annual retreat.

Program topics range from life outside of work to grief and loss, patient stories, ethical dilemmas and whatever else may be on physicians’ minds. The variety of programming approaches aims to include more physicians and fulfill the program’s purpose of reconnecting physicians with their vocation, encouraging balance in their lives, and helping doctors to align with the hospital’s strategic efforts.

“It’s about getting to know and supporting one other,” McCallister explained. “It’s not therapy; it’s physicians listening to other physicians. We don’t try to fix anything, the physicians simply listen to one another—and with the same confidentiality that a caring friend would give.”

Physician reaction
David Baer, MD, medical director of surgical services at Porter Hospital, described the program as “comforting” and “stress-relieving,” and said it has helped him no longer feel isolated.

“Prior to this program, I never really got the opportunity to get to know (my colleagues) personally,” Baer said. “It has created friendships I wouldn’t normally have and it makes me feel that I am not isolated dealing with issues I’m dealing with because they are dealing with the same types of issues.”

Debra Parsons, MD, a member of CMS’ expert panel, said many physicians don’t realize how out of sync their life balance is. The panel is looking at Porter Colleagues as an example of a program that could be replicated elsewhere.

“It may well be that such regular gatherings (like Porter Colleagues) can help restore the balance by offering a safe forum for physicians to gather, express their thoughts and share stories all the while keeping in mind what drew them to a career in medicine in the first place,” Parson said.

Categories: Communications, Colorado Medicine, Initiatives, Physician Wellbeing Resource Center