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Three tips to improve physician wellness


There are important issues that doctors can address head-on to gain professional and personal wellness.

The concept of physician wellness has been gaining more attention in recent years. Practicing medicine is full of many challenges, many of which interfere with physician well-being.

Wellness is important, and it is an ongoing process that requires vigilant attention throughout a medical career. It involves a deliberate effort to maintain physical and mental health.

Falling into the path of least resistance can eventually take a toll, as everyone makes demands that may devour a physician’s time and energy. The result can be a severe lack of well-being. Wellness can involve retreats, counseling, and sometimes making major life changes. But there are also several important issues that doctors can address head-on to gain professional and personal wellness.

Do one annoying thing per day

It seems counterintuitive that taking on an annoying activity could foster wellness. But every doctor has some unpleasant things to do, and they usually don’t go away on their own. Examples of dreaded tasks include filling out paperwork that requires different sources of information, giving negative feedback, or re-requesting something you need when your requests have already been ignored.

Some of these things can seem to be bigger than they are. Not getting them done can make you feel as if you are behind on everything you must do or may even add to more trouble later. It’s also important to acknowledge that once you get started on an annoying task, you might discover several more steps that you will need to take care of before it gets fully resolved. That is ok—and you should credit yourself for each step of the bothersome assignment as you work towards getting it done. The key is to get started.

Policies for problem issues

Physician work can be filled with sticky problems. Appointment no shows, drug seeking patients, and preauthorization issues are among them. There is no benefit to denying that these and other problems will recur. One good way to deal with them is to define the problem in a matter-of-fact way. If these problems are an inherent part of practicing your specialty, there is no reason for anyone to be surprised when they happen repeatedly.

Then create a clear policy or procedure for you and your whole staff to follow so that you will have a way of dealing with the issue when it comes up again. In some cases, your policy might be shared with patients or with other entities that you work with so that everyone will be on the same page in terms of expectations.

Stretch out your timeline

Being a doctor usually means being fast, efficient, and high achieving. You might have important goals—tenure, publishing, an RVU target, or a promotion. What would happen if you added one or two years to your timeline? The idea of taking longer to reach a goal can seem strange when everyone around you is in a race. But if you look at the high achievers around you, it will become clear that faster does not equal better.

If decelerating your timeline could ease your stress and still provide you with satisfaction once you reach that goal, you might end up better off, truly enjoying your work and your life in the meantime. In fact, you might end up with a better promotion or achievement than the one you were aiming for due to doing higher quality work that you couldn’t do while rushing.

Wellness has become a buzzword and part of a vague value system for physicians. Achieving wellness requires comprehensive and thoughtful attention to your needs. Taking small steps towards approaching unavoidable stressors can elevate your sense of wellness.

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© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health