Results Are In: Inaugural AAFP Well-being Conference a Hit

May 30, 2018 08:55 am Clif Knight, M.D.

Adages become adages for a reason, and many would say that doctors make the worst patients. When we are really honest with ourselves, this would often garner little argument in a room full of physicians. That was exactly the case when more than 450 attendees gathered in Naples, Fla., for the AAFP's first annual Family Physician Health and Well-being Conference. But these physicians were attracted to the conference and took important steps toward wellness by significantly expanding their personal toolkits with the essentials every professional needs to battle burnout.

[headshot of Clif Knight, M.D.]

Clif Knight, M.D.

At the 2017 Family Medicine Experience last September, the AAFP launched the Physician Health First initiative to help combat burnout and improve well-being and professional satisfaction among family physicians under the tagline "Caring for your patients starts with caring for yourself."

The AAFP recently compiled survey data from conference attendees that showed the impact of a major milestone in that commitment by the AAFP -- that inaugural well-being conference that was held April 18-21.

The event opened with a frank discussion of the primary drivers behind physician burnout. "The system" was, naturally, the central theme in the opening keynote I gave. After all, many of the root causes of physician burnout and unhappiness are a result of systemic administrative burdens (think prior approvals, a myriad of quality measures to report, archaic and unhelpful E&M documentation guidelines and the like) that bring no value to patients or physicians. The AAFP is advocating every day for relief from these requirements and the resulting distractions that keep us from spending more time with patients.

Although these dysfunctions in the system persist, family physicians are hungry for opportunities to learn about proven ways to increase their wellness. Over the course of the three-and-a-half-day live event, attendees learned about coping mechanisms, practical tools, and potentially transformational organizational changes that can help physicians help themselves, their peers, their teams and their patients.

And the conference had some unique features. For example, the number of participants dragging themselves out of bed each morning at 6:30 for voluntary yoga inexplicably doubled. By the last morning of the conference, yoga nearly consumed the entire ballroom space. I believe family physicians really enjoy spending time with each other. More than 100 family physicians spent time together practicing or learning yoga rather than getting another hour of precious sleep. I never would have predicted that.

One in four attendees responded to a survey about the event, and an impressive 98 percent of respondents agreed that the AAFP's inaugural offering was either excellent or better than average -- with 71 percent calling it excellent. Moreover, 95 percent of survey takers said they were encouraged to take practical steps back home with them to improve their professional satisfaction, and 89 percent reported they believe their professional satisfaction will improve because of having attended the conference. It's extremely gratifying to see this level of satisfaction and sense of value reported by attendees.

Survey results also showed how useful members find the AAFP's online resources. During the conference, the AAFP unveiled its Well-being Planner, a tool designed to help family physicians chart a path to personal wellness and professional fulfillment. Even with only a handful of days to fully appreciate all the tool has to offer, 71 percent of survey respondents felt it was a valuable asset. In fact, four out of five respondents find AAFP's Physician Health First portal, including the Maslach Burnout Inventory, to be important components in their journey to well-being.

Conference Chair Mark Greenawald, M.D., didn't need to see the survey results to know the impact the Family Physician Health and Well-being Conference had on many of the attendees with whom he spoke. The affect, gratitude, and sometimes even catharsis was quite clear.

"I expected a lot from this conference, and not only has it exceeded my expectations, I am also hearing that from my colleagues," he told me. "What I am finding very powerful is the faculty who are here are some of the most nationally recognized in this field, and to have them all gathered here for us to have access to is very profound.

"But equally powerful is the different vibe here. We've joked about the growing number of people showing up for yoga every morning. But it's very symbolic of trying something new."

The demand and the need for the 2018 conference was so clear that we started planning for 2019 before this year's conference even started. The conference planning team will be taking the best of the best from this year's conference and building on it using survey feedback from attendees to deliver a curriculum that will help you discover the tools and resources to improve your well-being in a counterintuitive system.

So, clear your mind and your calendar June 5-8, 2019, for the AAFP's second annual Physician Health and Well-being Conference at the beautiful Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass in Phoenix.

Arizona in June you say? What better locale to battle burnout? Fear not, the heat will be dry, and the A/C will be cold. Be well, and see you in Phoenix in 2019!

Clif Knight, M.D., is the AAFP's senior vice president for education.