Helping physicians

Addressing doctor burnout & depression: Resources for trainers, families coming soon

New physician wellness strategy lays out plans for several initiatives to promote physical, social, and emotional wellbeing.


Your best friend from med school. Your attending. The colleague who always covers for you when you need to switch shifts.

Everyone in medicine, from medical school through retirement, could face depression, burnout or suicidal thoughts at some point in their training or career.

Medical students have been found to have higher rates of depression and suicidal ideation than the general population. In a recent study, more than half of physicians reported experiencing burnout. Each year, roughly 300-400 physicians take their own lives.

Last year, the AOA House voted to establish a Physician Wellness Task Force. In July, the House adopted the task force’s AOA Physician Wellness Strategy, a plan to create resources to promote physician wellness.

The plan is unique in that it takes an osteopathic approach to physician wellness, recognizing that physicians’ needs will be different depending on where they are in their training or careers, says Robert Piccinini, DO, chair of the Physician Wellness Task Force.

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“We are the only group in the house of medicine that is promoting wellness by looking at the whole span of the physician’s life cycle, from before they become a doctor to retirement,” he says. “We want to provide help to everybody. That is our ultimate goal.”

Here’s what the AOA Physician Wellness Strategy includes:

    • Development of train-the-trainer curriculum to help school faculty, program directors and seasoned physicians recognize burnout in students, young physicians and themselves and learn the best ways to address it. The curriculum will also outline steps to begin changing the culture of the medical workplace to be more conducive to physician wellness. It’s expected to be available in May 2018.

“When you’re a mentor, it’s easy to lose touch with what the current generation of trainees is experiencing,” Dr. Piccinini says. “You can’t assume that how you took in information or coped with stressors is how the next generation is going to do that. It’s important to understand the different stressors that today’s trainees are facing. For example, this generation is facing a more significant debt load than the last. We’re hopeful that this curriculum will educate trainers on many of these generational differences.”

  • Creation of web-based programming for the families of trainees and physicians, which will serve the dual purpose of educating family members on warning signs in physicians as well as letting family know where they can go for help and support should they need it themselves. The programming is planned to launch in September 2018.
  • Launching a new web page that will provide resources on addressing burnout, depression and suicidal ideation, most likely in early 2018.

“Medical students go through life competing against others, especially in school and in residency,” Dr. Piccinini says. “They don’t want to show any sign of weakness. This will hopefully be a way that they can easily access information and help on their own, so that they don’t think, ‘If I seek help, I’m going to lose out.’ ”


  1. Brian White

    I think that this articles take on this issue perpetuates a false conclusion. The issue of physician ‘burnout’ is not an issue of a ‘problem’ with physicians. This issue is not one of weakness or lack of capacity of physicians.

    This is a system issue. The current healthcare system continues to incessantly dump on the national physician corp. This needs to stop.

    Who went to medical school to spend 40% of their professional time engaged in paperwork? No one did. Who went to medical school to become engage in baseless legal issues? No one did. Who went to medical school to have national physician groups mandate MOC and PIP without any literature support for these expensive and time consuming activities? No one did. Who went to medical school to see their practice enviroment overwhelmed with mid-level care providers who the medical system wants to view as a cheaper equivolency to physician care? Again, no one did.

    There needs to be work to push against the unfunded and unscientific mandates that the national system foists upon physicians and which leads to burn out of good and capable physicians. We must stop looking at the crisis of physician profesional nihilism as a problem of physicians and direct our focus at the real problem; a system that degraded, denegrates, and severely undervalues the contribution that physicians make to their patients and to society.

  2. Dr GK Anderson DO

    Thank you for articulating what we all are going through.
    The litigious environment, Threats by a handful of patients for not prescribing narcotics and insurance companies either refusing or underpaying paying for services rendered are eroding the passion for medicine.

  3. Gabe

    In review of the comments I couldn’t agree more! However, the unfortunate truth about the pace at which the healthcare system will change…could leave us with higher rates of depressiin and suicide. I hope those that have the power and/or passion to lobby for change, will do so. In the mean time, I think programs like this may save careers and even lives and deserve an equal amount of support…we shouldn’t shake our fingers or throw up our hands just because we KNOW that the system is the root cause. In the amount of time it took for these comments to post, I guarentee at least ONE resident or medical student was battling the darkness of depression ALONE without guidance on how to deal with it and the reassurance that it is ok to reach out. Programs like these buy us time until the day that we all hope for, when doctors can have their own practice, OR practice with autonomy, without having to succumb to assembly line medicine…I hope. Cheers to the AOA!

  4. Frances Southwick

    My name is Frances Southwick, DO. I’m a practicing ten-fingered Osteopath in Davis, California. I’m very concerned about this problem. Due to the ubiquitous nature of medical trainee burnout and depression (it is not just certain problem students….it’s all of them, because as the above have stated, it is a System Issue), I’ve written a book which has been adapted to theater, called Prognosis: Poor. It addresses the stress of medical training in the US. If anyone would like the performance to come to their medical school, residency or clinic, please email me. You can see more at I also give short lectures and facilitate Balint groups. Thank you for your concern about this problem.

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