From the desk of the EMD: Sneak peek – tackling physician wellness at the Annual Meeting

November 5, 2018

With the College’s Annual Scientific Meeting, Nov. 15-19 in Seattle, just around the corner, I thought I would give you a sneak peek of my talk, “The Path from Burnout to Wellness.” It’s part of a session with Mark O’Halloran, MD, FACAAI, who will update attendees on burnout with Gailen Marshall Jr., MD. PhD, FACAAI, and Megan Shepherd, MD, FACAAI acting as moderators and taking part in a panel discussion on the topic.

As you know, the College meeting is geared to be an educational experience. It’s designed to give you the tools you need to better manage your allergy, asthma and immunology patients. So why are we spending valuable CME time to cover burnout and wellness? How does that help our patients and make us better allergists?  I think this quote from Robert Wah, MD, former president of the American Medical Association, answers these questions. He states, “The most important patient we have to take care of is the one in the mirror.” If we have symptoms of burnout, it can lead to a lower quality of care for our patients, more medical errors and lower patient satisfaction. It’s paramount that we learn to manage our own health if we are going to be productive, caring allergists for our patients.

How do we move to physician wellness? One of my favorite articles that I plan to discuss in detail is from EJ Krall, MD: Ten Commandments of Physician Wellness. Here are his Ten Commandments:

I. Thou shall not expect someone else to reduce your stress.

II. Though shall not resist change.

III. Thou shall not take thyself in vain.

IV. Remember what is holy to thee.

V. Honor thy limits.

VI. Thou shall not work alone.

VII. Thou shall not kill or take it out on others.

VIII. Thou shall not work harder. Thou shall work smarter.

IX. Seek to find joy and mastery in thy work.

X. Thou shall continue to learn.

Though not brought to us by Moses from Mount Sinai, there is a great deal of wisdom for us in these commandments. Important concepts in optimizing physician wellness are practice delivery and individually-focused strategies. In reviewing individually-focused ones, I plan to bring light to choices regarding work-life balance, resilience strategies, communication skills training, spiritual nurturing, personal interests, such as hobbies and financial wellness. 

Most physicians can use the above strategies to extinguish burnout, but what happens if all the tactics fail to work? What do you do? I will cover several possibilities if all else fails. One that may be appropriate to consider, though definitely controversial, is leaving allergy practice and changing careers. I am sure almost all of us went into medicine to care for patients. Many would consider themselves failures if they left medical practice. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are many different exciting opportunities for physicians beyond practice. A fascinating website called the Drop Out Club is a leading network for jobs beyond traditional clinical and academic roles in medicine. Part of this website is a forum for MDs, PhDs, and PharmDs, where they exchange ideas and advice about innovative careers.

That’s just a taste of my talk. I hope to see you in Seattle. And make sure to give the College feedback on how you like the new educational formats and other planned activities this year. The College wants the Annual Meeting to meet your needs -  you, the practicing allergist.

Michael Blaiss, MD, FACAAI, Executive Medical Director