Where Have All the Smiles Gone?

By Steve Adelman, MD

What happened to turn the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young house officer (right) into the late career physician (below) whose withering glance strikes fear in the hearts of patients, colleagues and office staff?

The answer, of course, is stress and burnout. The practice of medicine these days is inherently stressful.  The so-called health care system is more complex than ever, and the practice lives of most physicians are replete with all manner of acute and chronic stress.

We are victims of our own success. As life expectancy increases in the face of more and more administrative overload, reimbursements are decreasing. The art and craft of medical practice are gradually giving way to an industrial model of care that runs against the grain of many of our best and brightest. Our profession is in the midst of a painful transition, and legions of physicians feel as though they are wandering in the desert, with no view of the Promised Land in sight.

A Medscape survey earlier this year demonstrated burnout rates ranging from 30 percent to over 50 percent, depending on medical specialty. The hardest hit specialties include internal medicine, family medicine, and ObGyn, along with emergency medicine and critical care.

Medscape defined burnout as “loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism, and a low sense of personal accomplishment.”  It also involves the trifecta of physical, emotional and cognitive exhaustion.  Little wonder that our late career physician isn’t smiling.

So what can we do to reduce physician stress and burnout?

Come learn about a variety of actionable countermeasures at our upcoming day-long Caring for the Caregivers CME program. Domain experts will share their wisdom on utilizing peer support, resiliency, mindfulness and compassionate care to combat the stresses of everyday medical practice.

Participants will have an opportunity to work in small groups to develop a roadmap for integrating these self-care methods into their daily practice lives. The program will conclude with a spirited feedback session that will involve discussing the matter at hand with a panel of senior health care leaders – an opportunity for dialogue to promote meaningful change on the front lines of medical practice.

Dr. Adelman is director of Physician Health Services, Inc., a corporation of the Massachusetts Medical Society. For more information, visit www.physicianhealth.org. Opinions expressed here are his own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Massachusetts Medical Society or Physician Health Services.

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