For physicians across BC, the pressure of the job and working in isolation from other colleagues can lead to severe burnout, with symptoms ranging from exhaustion to lack of efficiency to deep depression or worse. Relieving physician burnout is vital for a stable health care system and for the mental well-being of all doctors.
In 2012, Drs Joelle Bradley and Samir Malholtra, long-time advocates of physician wellness and determined to take a stand against burnout, drew inspiration from the Physician Advocating Wellness (PAW) groups in the Fraser Health community. Mindful that PAWS began as a response to physician suicides, Drs Bradley and Malholtra felt compelled to take preventative measures to ensure similar tragedies didn’t happen in their area.
The answer was MDs4Wellness, a physician-led group working to improve the mental wellness of doctors in Fraser Northwest by facilitating social connection through events, seminars, and workshops. This initiative promotes a culture of collegiality and mental well-being for doctors.
“Physician wellness has always been on my mind,” said co-founder Dr Bradley. “As a hospitalist, I get to work closely with community and hospital-based doctors but saw a real lack of opportunity for my colleagues to get to know each other in a personal, authentic, and supportive way.”
Likewise, Dr Malhotra recognized that stress can come in many forms. “The impact of burnout can present itself with cognitive and physical manifestations,” he says. But it can be very difficult to lessen the impact of this stress by yourself.
While physician burnout negatively affects doctors on a personal level, it also gravely impacts the health care system. It can lead to suboptimal patient care, a reduction in access to medical services, or even patient death. However, the expectation that physicians continue to be self-sufficient, error-free, and stoic in the face of challenging work still prevails in much of the medical community.
With funding and engagement support from the Fraser Northwest Division of Family Practice, MDs4Wellness membership now has more than 350 members. Recognizing that a forum to develop stronger social connections to counteract isolating and stressful work environments had to start organically, each member was personally invited to join the program by a physician colleague on the steering committee.
And it’s that level of personal touch that members have really responded to. As one member states, “Knowing there are physicians who care about physician wellness will encourage me to get involved. This is so important in this culture of disconnecting and continually feeling we have to do more with less time.”
MDs4Wellness events generally occur monthly with activities ranging from rock-climbing to book clubs to mindfulness courses. The program encourages its members to participate in events and to share ideas for future events.