Over 40% of physicians are experiencing some level of burnout, according to Medscape’s 2021 physician burnout and suicide report. Burnout rates have been steadily increasing for years. In the report, physicians list multiple reasons for their burnout, including bureaucratic tasks, long hours, lack of respect from coworkers and the stress of COVID-19.
Five years ago, Britton Jewell, DO, MHA, was among the many physicians who were burned out.
“I was working as a hospitalist full time,” he says. “It was a challenging time for me personally, and I was working very long hours, which only made my personal challenges more difficult. I realized I needed to make a change.”
That change involved going back to school to earn an MHA and taking a new role as an associate medical director. Today, Dr. Jewell is the medical director of extensivist programs at Desert Oasis Healthcare in Palm Springs, California, and he is much happier.
But Dr. Jewell never forgot about the burnout he experienced, and he knew many physicians were still in that difficult place. To try to help others, he created a free wellness app called Meaningful Doc and launched it in August 2020. It is now available in the Apple and Google Play stores.
“The main idea behind the app is to focus on the positive aspects of practicing medicine,” he says. “I wanted to create something that would let physicians know every day that someone is rooting for them.”
Following is an edited Q&A.
What are the app’s main features?
The app provides physicians with a daily push notification with a positive quote. They don’t have to do anything. It’s a little snippet to provide encouragement. It lets them know that someone is thinking of them and they aren’t alone.
The app also has a news feature where you can scroll through positive news stories and a resources section with links to information on addressing burnout. And I have a LinkedIn page for the app, I share quotes there as well.
Can you share a few of the quotes?
Sure. I love this one from Hippocrates, who said, ‘Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity.’
William Osler said: ‘The good physician treats the disease. The great physician treats the patient who has the disease.’ That one is a good reminder that we are treating the whole person.
What’s the significance of the name Meaningful Doc?
I chose the name because what we do as physicians is meaningful, but it is easy at times to lose sight of that. Our work is meaningful for our patients and their families. It’s important to try to remember that.
At the same time, the name is also a play on Meaningful Use, the federal program created to get more physicians to use EHRs. The red tape of Meaningful Use is a significant contributor to physician burnout.
What are your goals with the app?
My goal with the app is simply to help other physicians. At first, I thought, if I can help one physician, then I’ll achieve my goal.
I have heard from at least half a dozen docs who said the app helped them, so I feel like my goal has been accomplished. But now that the app is available, I’d like to have more physicians know about it and download it so I can hopefully help more docs.
I’m also planning to modify the app and add new features as I receive feedback from the physicians who are using it.
What was your experience of burnout and recovery like?
I realized I needed to make a change because the long hours were just not working for me, and they were exacerbating some personal challenges I was experiencing. At the time, I was a full-time hospitalist. I knew I could not continue working the way I was full time as a clinician.
I made a conscious effort to make a change. I decided to get my MHA with the goal of becoming a medical director. It has taken me a few years to get there, but I made it. And the job change along with some changes in my personal life have alleviated my burnout.
After going through that experience, I know what it feels like. You can feel isolated and discouraged and lose sight of why you became a physician in the first place.
I wanted other physicians to know that if they are experiencing burnout, they are not alone. When the pandemic hit, my desire to help others became more urgent, so I prioritized getting the app ready to launch.
As someone who has overcome physician burnout, what advice would you give to physicians who are currently struggling?
First of all, know that it is OK that you are feeling this way. You are not alone. There are a lot of resources out there to help you.
I urge you to seek help and make use of the resources available to you. The AOA has a great physician wellness resources page.
It’s always a good idea to reach out to a colleague, friend or mentor who might be able to help.