[People] Mary Wagner, MD, shares her thoughts on clinician well-being

wagner-d-maryMary Wagner, MD is a faculty member within the Family Medicine residency program at Creekside Clinic and is a physician lead on clinician resiliency at Park Nicollet and Methodist.  She is also a faulty member and course chair at the Flourishing in Your Work and Life: Well-being, Health and Resilience for Clinicians CME conference to be held on Oct, 28 at the Park Nicollet Clinic & Specialty Center.  She shared some of her expertise on clinician well-being and resilience with the Office of Health Professional Education:

  • What got you interested in working for clinician well-being?

My passion for addressing the well-being of clinicians comes from the same interest that drew me to the practice of medicine—reducing barriers, minimizing waste, and encouraging personal growth. As a physician, I work with patients to maximize their health, so they can function at their best in all aspects of life.

From early in medical training, I saw barriers that prevent physicians from making the best use of their valuable skills. The practice of medicine has high physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual demands. In light of that, the taboo against admitting any weaknesses or vulnerability seemed counterproductive. In addition, the marked increase in non-value-added administrative tasks adds thoughtless distraction and time pressure. I have always been bothered by the wastefulness of ignoring the damage done to doctors in their work. Excellent medical care requires excellence in physicians (and the rest of the health care team). Addressing physician health issues, including sleep deprivation, burnout, and depression is good for the doctors and also good for patient safety and quality.

  • What are the biggest opportunities to build clinician resiliency and reduce burnout rates?

I’m fundamentally optimistic that we will find solutions to the 54% burnout rate in physicians, using the same skills and habits that make us good doctors. In approaching a patient, physicians are:

  • Curious about the situation and symptoms, looking for underlying causes and interacting processes.
  • Honest about their findings with themselves and with their patients, creating a safe place where transparency is preferable to secrets.
  • Creative in problem-solving, jointly finding the best outcome for that patient’s situation.
  • Willing to change their diagnosis and treatment according to the patient’s response.

If we apply those same skills to the problem of physician stress and burnout, we will succeed in revitalizing the profession. I think the biggest opportunities lie in discovering the root causes of the dramatic recent increase in distress, and in finding effective workplace interventions. In the meantime, we need to continue helping individual physicians in distress, emphasize our professional responsibility for self-care, and provide easy access to a diverse menu of support services.

  • Do you have some tips for clinicians, on how to start building resiliency?

I’m cautious in recommending ways to “increase resilience” since that is sometimes shorthand for “become tougher so you can survive a bad situation without complaining”. However, it is helpful to explore ways to increase your personal well-being and develop healthy responses to work stress. This can include making time for meaningful conversations with colleagues, using support staff to decrease administrative burdens, and taking vacations. On a more global level, we need physicians to be active voices in their organizations and professional societies, calling for reforms and research into best practices for creating sustainable practices.

Visit our website to register for the Flourishing CME conference and to find information about upcoming CME conferences.

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