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.
“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.’ ”