by Debra Parsons, MD, FACP
Featured in the July-August 2019 Colorado Medicine Colorado Medicine.
The years of residency training may be some of the most difficult of a doctor’s life as long hours are spent honing clinical and technical skills, facing difficult patient situations and decisions, and navigating the business side of medicine that can sometimes be in direct conflict to your mission as a physician. Add personal challenges – like balancing educational debt; buying a new home or car; making time for loved ones, for exercise, for your faith – and juggling daily life almost seems a Sisyphean task!
I want to offer my perspective based on my experiences interacting with residents during COPIC’s educational sessions. Frequently, residents are surprised by their lack of wellbeing in various measured dimensions of wellness.
I first ask, “why should we focus on physician health and wellbeing at the resident and student level?” They invariably answer that “healthy doctors live longer, lead more satisfying lives and are safer practitioners.”
We discuss the literature that tells us that physician wellbeing and joy in the practice of medicine are associated with fewer medical errors, enhanced patient satisfaction and a positive environment in the workplace. And links between burnout and low professionalism are larger in residents and early-career physicians (<5 years post-residency) compared with mid- and late-career physicians. Yet inherent barriers may prevent physicians from seeking and receiving assistance when in need.
Utilizing tools like the “DIMENSIONS: Work & Well-Being Toolkit for Physicians” can provide vital insight and self-awareness. The toolkit was produced by CMS and COPIC in partnership with the University of Colorado Behavioral Health and Wellness Program, and includes 10 evidence-based assessment activities. Self-assessment is imperative to the overall wellbeing of physicians in that it directs one’s focus and one’s actions towards a safer, more efficient and rewarding practice. During my COPIC presentations, residents complete self-assessment exercises and openly share their stories and perspectives. Many are amazed that their self-reflections reveal lower ratings in areas of emotional, social, spiritual, intellectual and even occupational wellbeing than the assumed financial or physical dimensions (although residents fall here as well). Most are committed to making a specific change to enhance their future wellbeing.
5-minute self assessment
As a quick assignment, take five minutes to assess your own wellbeing across the eight dimensions described in the “DIMENSIONS” toolkit and listed here: Environmental Wellness, Financial Wellness, Intellectual Wellness, Occupational Wellness, Physical Wellness, Social Wellness, Spiritual Wellness, and Emotional Wellness.
The idea is to develop insight as you reflect on where you are most well and where you have work to do. Rate yourself on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high) for each dimension.
Circle one “low;” use it to set a specific goal and a plan for change. Accomplishing this goal will enhance your wellbeing and all of the benefits that come with being a well physician. Set the goal using the “S.M.A.R.T.” format:
Target a specific area for improvement
Identify indicators for progress
Challenging but perceived as possible
Achievable through available resources
Timeline in which goals will be achieved
Reflect on your self-assessment and repeat it from time to time, aiming for another goal. It is not easy, but it is critical for your wellbeing. I believe that using this and similar tools will help you be safer and more efficient and have a more rewarding practice. And don’t forget: everyone needs support. Please make time to connect with a loved one, reach out to a colleague or ask for help if needed.