Family physicians attending the opening ceremony of the AAFP's 2017 Family Medicine Experience (FMX) here Sept. 14 were privy to the launch of a dynamic new Academy initiative that shines a spotlight on physician well-being.
AAFP Senior Vice President for Education Clif Knight, M.D., introduces the AAFP's new Physician Health First initiative to a huge crowd of family physicians at the 2017 Family Medicine Experience.
Clif Knight, M.D., the AAFP's senior vice president for education, introduced his colleagues to a new program developed just for family physicians dubbed Physician Health First. The initiative is built around a web portal that is now open for business and waiting for physicians to explore.
Knight told the crowd that improving family physicians' well-being is one of the Academy's strategic goals and a priority of the AAFP Board of Directors -- in part because research shows that family physician burnout is at an all-time high.
In fact, two-thirds of family physicians report at least one element of burnout, said Knight, and family medicine is among the top five medical specialties reporting burnout.
"Recently we surveyed you, our members, to determine your professional satisfaction and sense of physician well-being," said Knight.
"We heard you say, 'Stop trying to fix me. I'm not the problem. Fix the system, and I'll be fine.'"
- Clif Knight, M.D., the AAFP's senior vice president for education, introduced the Academy's new Physician Health First initiative to his colleagues during the 2017 Family Medicine Experience.
- Improving family physicians' well-being is one of the Academy's strategic goals and a priority of the AAFP Board of Directors.
- The Physician Health First web portal helps family physicians evaluate their well-being and then gives them tools they need to assess and address their risk of burnout.
Knight asked for a show of hands from the physicians in the audience to indicate if they had ever experienced any sort of extreme stress or burnout. Hands shot up across the vast expanse of the ballroom.
"Now, keep those hands up if you are still experiencing a sense of significant stress or burnout right now," said Knight.
Very few hands went down.
"I don't think this demonstration surprises anyone," said Knight.
With the help of graphics on video screens, he walked physicians through what he called the "framework" of five levels of the family physician ecosystem that can affect the risk of physician burnout.
First on the list was the U.S. health care system and its labyrinth of burdensome regulations. Next up, the term "organization" -- a place where "professional satisfaction is influenced by those making decisions where you work," said Knight.
Next on the list, a physician's practice environment and practice team, followed by the individual -- because all physicians have personal wellness habits and resiliency skills that allow them to bounce back after stress.
And finally -- but certainly of equal importance -- came the impact of the physician culture, "the workaholic habits that that we were trained and conditioned to value above our own well-being."
It's not sustainable, said Knight.
"The stigma of stress and burnout as a sign of individual weakness brings a sense of guilt and shame when we don't feel like we are strong enough doctors."
Knight ran through various scenarios: a typical busy day at the practice that leads to three hours of administrative work after closing, days on end juggling varied responsibilities as a residency program director, or many hours spent every day overseeing a vast collection of people and problems as the chief medical officer for a large hospital system.
All of these situations carry the risk of physician burnout, said Knight.
"How do I know this? Because over my 25-plus years in family medicine, I've served in each of these roles. I've witnessed burnout firsthand, and I've learned that it affects everyone differently," said Knight.
Knight said he's spent some time over the past couple of years asking physicians what is causing their burnout, and the answer he heard most often was the broken promise of electronic health records. Other stressors include regulatory burdens, workload, the push to see a higher volume of patients and medical school debt.
The Physician Health First web portal was designed specifically to "inspire, energize and motivate" family physicians to evaluate their well-being and then give them tools they need to assess and address their risk of burnout, said Knight.
He described the portal -- strongly supported by the AAFP Foundation -- as a "one-stop shop" on physician well-being that is home to a plethora of resources. One of these is free member access to the Maslach Burnout Inventory to get physicians started on their well-being journey.
"I realize that it may feel selfish. It may not feel right to put your own health and well-being before that of your patients," said Knight.
"But family doctors, hear me when I say you are indispensable. And to be strong family physicians and to serve your patients best, you must put your well-being first. I promise your patients, your practice, your families will thank you for it."
Knight urged family physicians to use their time at FMX to take their well-being to the next level.
"Get ready to engage and recharge your energy with one another -- a community of strong family physicians who believe in the power of our specialty," he said. "We are the solution to the broken health care system."
Knight emphasized physician well-being activities taking place at FMX and invited all family physicians to attend a new AAFP event -- the Family Physician Health and Well-being Conference, scheduled for April 18-21, 2018, in Naples, Fla.
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