Earlier this week we covered the American Conference on Physician Health and shared some of the thoughts of panelist Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the medical school. As writer Mandy Erickson recently reported, several other Stanford faculty members also took part in the conference:
Tait Shanafelt, MD, the chief wellness officer at Stanford Medicine, noted that nearly half of physicians — 45 percent — currently show at least one symptom of burnout. Not only do burned-out physicians provide lower-quality care, he noted, but replacing physicians who leave because of burnout costs the United States $5 billion a year.
He added that the problem can spiral within an organization: ‘There’s an infectious component of burnout,’ he said. Other members of the care team ‘learn cynicism.’
Abraham Verghese, MD, professor of medicine at Stanford and an award-winning author, discussed one of the most pernicious effects of physician unhappiness: suicide. When he asked conference attendees if they knew fellow physicians who had killed themselves, nearly all raised their hands. ‘Every year it takes three medical school classes to replace the physicians who committed suicide,’ he said.
Verghese related the story of his friend David Smith, the subject of his book The Tennis Partner, who struggled with addiction before shooting himself. He said that the ‘loneliness of doctors’ enabled Smith’s addiction. ‘We rarely expose our emotions,’ he said. ‘There’s a fear of showing weakness.’
Other physicians and experts took the stage at the event — which was attended by 425 people (primarily doctors) from 44 states and seven countries — to share personal experiences, present research and offer tips on coping with stress. Minor also issued a call for an all-hands approach to improving physicians’ well-being: “We need to get our communities to help us and be intentional about involving everyone in our organization,” he concluded.
Previously: Promoting joy in medicine: Dean Lloyd Minor and fellow leaders offer insights, Boosting physician wellness: Lessons from Stanford at Medicine X and Countering the problem of physician burnout
Photo of Tait Shanafelt by Paul Sakuma