A recent study published in JAMA found that the physician population has higher resilience than the general population. We generally attribute a lack of resilience to a higher likelihood of burnout, and while the study by West et al. found that to be true, it also found that 29% of participants with the highest possible resilience score also had burnout. How do we explain this apparent inconsistency? It makes sense if you appreciate that we are highly resilient professionals working in a very unhealthy work environment.
The professional challenges physicians face are unique, and vary based on the specific situations in which we find ourselves. Practice type, location, and administrative burdens are but a few of the unique professional stressors impacting physicians. Throw in the highly charged human dynamic of patient care, team personalities, and navigating hospital politics, and there’s no wonder the physician population is struggling.
Here’s the underlying problem – we accept that physicians are resilient, yet we’re still burning out!
By some estimates, 80% of physician burnout is caused by system issues. The truth is that burnout is a system issue, and not an individual shortcoming.
So what if we redefine what physician resilience means – both broadly and individually?
Physician Resilience Is Not Typical
Physicians are not typical, and neither is physician resilience. The everyday demands of being a physician are much more challenging than your average workplace. These challenges can be physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. The demands of the profession take a gradual, silent toll on our bodies, minds, heart, and soul, while intellectually we were trained to motor ahead in the face of stress and anxiety. Research has shown we take on the emotions of our patients or allow our compassion to become weakened or unhealthy. When we’re faced with all of this during the course of patient care, how can we not feel challenged spiritually?
Our resilience is what we rely on.
The American Psychological Association defines “resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress resilience is defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficult situations.” West et al. defined it as “the collection of personal qualities that enable a person to adapt well and even thrive in the face of adversity and stress.”
There are so many ways to define resilience.
How to Define Resilience for Each Physician to Create Wellness and Sustainability
What if we redefined physician resilience to reflect the reality of the healthcare system within which we work? What if we avoided martyrdom or being worked like dogs? What if our compassion was supported rather than beaten down?
What if we defined Physician Resilience as the ability of physicians to continually strive for their purpose despite the healthcare system actively working against them? (Send your ideas and definitions to Team@SurgeonMasters.com)
To me, individual resilience is directly related to my why or passion for performance improvement in everything I do and maintaining a positive attitude. It guides my decision making, and eases my anxiety during stressful times. It helps me stay positive and aim for actions that are positive, intentional, and purposeful.
“I do what I do to make a major positive impact on other people’s lives.” – Jeff Smith, MD, FACS, CPC
If we’re aware of our why and always making strides to achieve it, while our resiliency WILL BE TESTED, we’ll have a guide to empower our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
Collectively and individually, physicians are a resilient bunch. We’ve known that in our hearts since the dawn of modern medicine, and now the research is starting to prove it.
How do YOU define resilience?
Start by defining your why and following it.
Need help defining your why? Reach out to SurgeonMasters for support. The SurgeonMasters community provides a supportive, nonjudgmental, and enriching environment for self-development.
“Building Your Resilience.” Https://Www.Apa.Org, www.apa.org/topics/resilience.
West, Colin P., et al. “Resilience and Burnout Among Physicians and the General US Working Population.” JAMA Network Open, vol. 3, no. 7, 1 July 2020, pp. e209385–e209385, jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2767829, 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.9385. Accessed 14 July 2020.