Over 20 years ago Dr. Ron Hofeldt assisted Physicians Insurance in creating a support program for physicians involved in litigation.
The goal, which still remains, was to promote resilience as physicians deal with the daily demands of medicine during the slow-moving process of litigation. His unique role as Director of Physician Affairs working closely with physicians in litigation has provided him insights on burnout. Why are physicians suffering? Our culture promotes hard work, along with the belief that to dedicate one’s life to medicine is noble. However, physicians do not receive adequate training in selfcare. Instead they are “rewarded” for sacrificing or postponing their personal needs. They are bright, high achievers who want to help those who are in need. They too frequently shed other parts of life—family, exercise, recreation, relaxation—for medicine.
How can a distressed physician be helped?
Offer education and hope. Let them know burnout is a common occupational risk, they’re not alone, and resources are available. They also need to regain balance and their connection with other physicians. We’ve stopped attending department meetings and rely on e-mail and other technology for communication. This reduced personal engagement leads to isolation and a breakdown in teamwork; collegiality and collaboration lessens the stress of medicine.
How can organizations help?
They need to address burnout earlier. More organizations are starting to develop resources to address physician burnout. Unfortunately, many fail to address the fact that burnout contributes to medical errors. This awareness should be instilled during medical school. We need conferences to educate physicians, help them gain insight, and to develop tools to mitigate the risk. We must get the word out – silence does not work.
Just as the heart pumps blood to itself first,
physicians must address self-care before caring for others.
What can physicians do?
Physicians should follow the advice they give their patients: slow down, step back, eat healthy, exercise, and take time to laugh. Medicine is demanding and requires physicians to function at the highest cognitive level. Healthy physicians make better decisions regarding their patients. Promoting resilience and encouraging physicians to take care of themselves is a win-win-win for patients, physicians, and medicine. Just as the heart pumps blood to itself first, physicians must address selfcare before caring for others
How does litigation impact physicians?
Physicians dedicate their lives to provide the highest quality care to each and every patient. There’s a sense of satisfaction knowing you are doing your best. When a lawsuit alleges professional wrong doing, physicians are confused, shocked, and saddened. The suit quickly becomes a personal attack that causes physicians to question their competence and whether they want to continue practicing medicine. Unfortunately, many physicians believe that good doctors don’t get sued, and that is not true. Addressing the feelings of isolation, shame and burnout associated with a lawsuit helps physicians handle the stress of litigation. A resilient defendant is less impacted by the stress of litigation and is a more effective witnesses as they go through this process.
I’ve seen highly skilled physicians wanting to leave medicine. I’ve also seen that with support, guidance, teamwork, and redirection, distressed physicians are able to find life and the practice of medicine exciting again. The entire Physicians Insurance team is focused on supporting physicians throughout this confusing process, and takes pride in helping physicians sustain the joy of caring for patients.
The work of Dr. Hofeldt, a psychiatrist with more than 30 years’ experience, has resulted in support resources available at no expense to all Physicians Insurance members. Learn more at www.phyins.com/providersupport.