With the growing trend of burnout in doctors, one of the things that has been identified as a solution is improving “Wellness” or self-care in doctors. Most medical colleges and boards have started to recognize what has been an important part of corporate culture for some time. That looking after the physician’s wellness can lead to better performance from Doctors, and reduced incidents of medical errors and increased patient satisfaction. Importantly it also helps reduce the alarming rates of depression, mental health problems, substance abuse, and indeed suicide that has been increasing in doctors. In this article we’ll talk a little bit about this buzzword of “Wellness”, what it means, how it can be applied to your life, and what benefits it can have.
What is Wellness
Wellness – it sounds like an idea thought up by hippies and perpetuated by “naturopaths”! It’s something that is brandished about, one of the buzzwords of life coaches and counsellors. So what does it mean? The definition is :
“…a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
– The World Health Organization
Just stop a second there and read that definition again. Do you think you are “Well” … The importance in that above description is the “not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. We as doctors tend to disregard our own health and mental health, and often shrug off illness, pressures and stress . We try and power through our work, admirably putting the health of patients and the work we do above our own well being. Unless we are severely incapacitated we don’t seek help or review our own health with the same microscope that we would apply to our patients health and life.
Wellness is looking beyond the absence of illness or infirmity to a state of well being in multiple aspects of a person’s health. It’s based partly on self care, but also on other aspects of our lives. There are lots of different descriptions of the aspects of wellness. I’ve tried to incorporate them below into a structure for health professionals:
For better or worse we as doctors and health professionals often define ourselves by our work – and finding a balance in our work is an essential part of our wellness. This can be disrupted by workloads, complaints against us, bureaucracy, career progression, exams, registration, medical boards, and failures – poor outcomes in our patients. As you can imagine this area is one of the key areas that can lead health workers to burnout and breaking point.
One of the biggest stressors in our modern lives are our finances. As doctors of health professionals there’s a perception that we are well off, and that we don’t ever know the struggles of seeing if a card will be declined or worrying about bills. However from the debts we cumulate from medical school, through to expensive medical education, equipment, and general expenses of running a business (if working for yourself as a GP or own clinic) – this can be a significant burden.
Everyone has struggles and low days. But for whatever reason we as medics don’t seem to be very good at getting help. There’s an above average level of substance abuse and burnout, mental health problems, and suicide in our profession. There are obvious reasons like post traumatic stress from the things that we see and do in helping people. The things mentioned already work and finances play a large part. But the aspect of mental wellness is not just about mental health it also about intellectual satisfaction – are you challenged, are you happy doing what you do, do you need to satisfy that big brain in your head with more than doing paperwork? Do you expand you knowledge and mind? This can also involve spiritual wellness, through our views on life, the universe, God and our spirituality.
We as humans aren’t just creatures of solitude, and our wellness depends on those around us. To achieve wellness, there has to be balance in our own lives but also in our relationship with those around us. Do we have good social contacts, how are things with our families, with our loved ones?
This is one aspect we neglect a lot! When was the last time you got a health check, not just ran the Bp machine over your own arm, but sat down with a doctor or GP who was not a colleague or friend – to assess you as your doctor? We tend to be very good at giving advice to others to look after themselves and how important their physical health is, but are some of the last ones to get help ourselves.
Now stop just here for a moment, and read through those 5 aspects again. Think about your life and where your life is in those aspects.
If you’re anything like myself or a lot of people I know then there are a few things that could be improved.
To wrap up –
So there you have it a brief breakdown on that buzz word of “Wellness”. If someone talks to you about wellness, you hopefully have a better idea now. But more importantly I hope this challenges you to look at your own life, your own wellness, and to look at things that you can change. Yes it may be a buzzword, but we as doctors and health professionals already know all these things mentioned, have parts to play in recovery time and overall patient health. We just need to apply it to our own lives. In our next post we’ll look at some ways you can apply some of the aspects of wellness to your own life.
Some Useful References:
- Australian Doctors Health Network – http://www.adhn.org.au/
- Weiner E, Swain G, Wolf B, Gottlieb M. A qualitative study of physicians’ own wellness-promotion practices. West J Med 2001;174:19–23. Search PubMed
- Unhappy doctors: what are the causes and what can be done?
Nigel Edwards, policy director,a Mary Jane Kornacki, partner,b and Jack Silversin, partnerb. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1122769/
- Renewal in the practice of medicine.
Hatem CJ1. http://www.pec-journal.com/article/S0738-3991(06)00196-0/abstract
- Kirkland, Anna. “What Is Wellness Now?” – http://jhppl.dukejournals.org/content/39/5/957