• Getting to the Heart of It: Facilitating Care for the Family Physician

    As family physicians, we start each day with a plan to see and care for our patients. Patient care is the heart and soul of what we do and the reason we chose medicine. We’ve also become quite good at integrating a steady flow of non-patient tasks into our workday, from regulatory paperwork to business operations. Yet, even in the best of times, non-patient tasks can add up, take our attention away from the work we love and affect our personal and professional satisfaction.

    If your well-being is at risk, we have support within our community of family physicians that can help you. We have many available tools and resources, each designed to remedy, reduce and reshape the factors that contribute to our burnout.

    The AAFP hears the concerns of our family physicians and has created a number of articles, videos and other resources to help, including Physician Health First. This suite of tools is designed to nurture your emotional well-being and professional satisfaction with practical and functional guidance.

    One step we can take to prioritize our own well-being is to engage with the American Medical Association’s STEPSForward “Physician Burnout: Improve Physician Satisfaction and Patient Outcomes” module. Although it was designed as a response to the stress of COVID-19 care, it’s a tool that will no doubt stand the test of time by providing key steps to prevent physician burnout in our practices, offering strategies to construct a process to measure and improve our well-being and presenting examples of successful burnout prevention programs in a variety of settings.

    Another tool designed to help family physicians address the factors that cause burnout is the Medscape Business Academy Combating Physician Burnout. This series of assessments and tips provides physicians with practical solutions for returning to the joy of patient care while continuing to run their practices efficiently. Some of the organizational tips the series offers ensure that “the right things happen by default,” and eliminate some of the factors that lead to burnout, according to the chapter on “Modifying Your Environment to Reduce Stress.”

    Burnout looks a little different for each of us and we all cope differently. In the book, “Taking Action Against Clinician Burnout: A Systems Approach to Professional Well-Being,” authors look at physician resiliency. As indicated in Chapter 2, resilience has “a variety of definitions, including the ability to persevere and remain positive and a mindset and skill set that enables individuals to maintain their performance and well-being under adversity.” The author suggests resilience and the practice of mindfulness can develop—to a point. However, the effort must be coupled with organizational and process improvements. Mindfulness includes effective breathing, purposeful thinking about priorities and being grateful for the good in your personal and professional life.

    There are instances where burnout and/or depression are more serious than just losing your joy in work. According to the Medscape National Physician Burnout & Suicide Report 2020: The Generational Divide, two-thirds of all physicians report they have never sought professional care in the past for their burnout and/or depression and don’t plan to now. Of course, we know that family physicians are among the top five specialties experiencing burnout and two-thirds of family physicians report experiencing one element of burnout.

    As such, a growing number of physicians and medical associations are working to reduce the stigma of finding mental health resources for health care providers and provide support through a number of programs. Those could include hospital-based, private and even wellness coaching professionals. The good news is that there are options that are effective for a variety of personalities, concerns and barriers.

    We enjoy feeling inspired by our patients and challenged by their cases. We even enjoy the little “wins” of improving a process or workflow hurdle that reduces burnout. It’s important to remember we can reach our goals for personal and professional satisfaction by taking the time to heal ourselves.  

    If you are having thoughts about suicide or hurting yourself, reach out for help immediately. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 (TALK).