Burnout is one of the most significant problems facing physicians today, and one that is rarely talked about. Physician burnout is a long-term stress reaction marked by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a lack of sense of personal accomplishment. It causes physicians to care less about their patients and perform poorly at work. It can also leak into their personal life, causing them to be absent from the home as well. Burnout can cause physicians to quit medicine, become addicted to drugs, or even commit suicide.
In a 2017 survey into physician burnout conducted by Medscape, physicians from 27 specialties ranked their burnout on a scale of one to seven, with one meaning burnout does not interfere and seven meaning they have considered leaving medicine because of it. All but one specialty selected four or higher, with emergency medicine being the most affected specialty.
This problem is occurring worldwide, but what is being done to prevent physicians from burning out? There are a few programs in place state-by-state, but right now Oregon is at the forefront of recognizing and treating burnout.
The Central Oregon Medical Society is creating a program specifically targeted for physician wellness, the Oregon Wellness Program. The Oregon Wellness Program is open to physicians and physician assistants and promotes Oregon Healthcare Professionals’ well-being through education, coordinated regional counseling services, telemedicine services and research.
The program grew out of town hall meetings that were held in early 2014 and attended by physicians and non-physician leaders of medical societies. From there, the meetings developed into a coalition dedicated to bring insight into professional burnout and find solutions for the problem. After a while, the coalition partnered with the Foundation for Medical Excellence, another Oregon foundation that was established for the same reason in 1984. Then an executive committee was elected to develop and lead the emerging program, and the Oregon Wellness Program was born.
The program was developed and sanctioned by physician peers, uses locally selected psychiatrists and psychologists with experience caring for healthcare professionals and 24/7 support for healthcare professionals.
Currently, the program is only serving Jefferson, Crook, and Deschutes counties, but will eventually be offered statewide. The cost of the wellness counseling and telemedicine services will be covered for physicians and physician assistants by the Oregon Wellness Program. This program is one of the first of its kind to offer help to the physicians who do so much to help others.