Doctors of BC is moving forward on new initiatives to support physician wellness. Recently, we signed an agreement with the CMA that will result in the development of a joint initiative on physician health and wellness. And we have just completed a consultation on physician burdens that will inform the development of a policy paper to help us tackle systemic issues within the health care system that are contributing to physician burnout.
We also support physician health at the local level through our Joint Collaborative Committees. Through the JCCs, Doctors of BC and the BC Ministry of Health provide funds to Divisions of Family Practice and Medical Staff Associations, who are building grassroots initiatives focussed on physician wellness.
These local initiatives are important. When it comes to mental wellness, doctors can benefit enormously from connecting with colleagues within their communities. Peer connections help doctors feel supported in providing patient care, and ensure they have someone to talk to about the pressures they may be feeling. Recognizing this, the Kootenay Boundary Division of Family Practice created a grassroots approach to providing their doctors with access to peer-to-peer connections in their communities.
The Unplugged for Wellness Program, initiated in 2018, organizes events that provide space for physician connection, including informal coffee meetups, outdoor excursions, guest speakers, and guided weekend retreats.
Dr Todd Kettner, Project Manager, explains that the program works towards two fundamental goals: “The first [goal] is to reduce stigma around mental health issues for physicians by opening up conversations,” he says. “And the second is to facilitate meaningful connections between doctors.”
The success of the Unplugged for Wellness Program events lies in the combination of practical advice and open discussion space. While it can be difficult to try and squeeze these events into doctors’ already full calendars, the KB Physician Wellness team has found through their evaluation research that even just knowing that these events are available is a source of encouragement to physicians.
“Though some doctors may not be able or want to attend a certain event, they still feel the positive effects that these events represent,” says Dr Kettner. “And the fact that these events are brought to smaller communities across the division makes doctors feel that there is a real effort to accommodate everyone regardless of their location.”
One takeaway for doctors who attended a recent Unplugged for Wellness retreat was the concept of finding a “failure friend” - a fellow physician to whom they can reach out to express feelings of failure, frustration, or disappointment. The failure friend’s role is to listen without fixing, normalize the experience, and provide empathetic support.
The failure friend concept is a support strategy that retreat attendees can use in their day-to-day lives. “Failure friends help illuminate what you’re thinking and how to be self-emphatic and work forward from there,” reports a physician attendee. “I think the failure friend concept is an essential part of doing the work.”
Giving and receiving support in this way is a win-win situation for doctors. Early research by program organizers suggests that simply hearing that difficult experiences are normal can help doctors cope.
Click here to learn more about the Kootenay Boundary division’s work to support physician wellness.