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Doctors demand healthier workplaces

But they must also build ‘inner resilience’ to cope at work

Mark Gould

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Doctors need to be more self-aware and employers need to set policies that encourage healthy workplaces, the 2012 International Conference on Physicians Health agreed.

A nature-versus-nurture debate at the conference examined whether it was up to doctors to build inner resilience to cope with their jobs or whether institutions had a greater role to play.

A straw poll of around 350 doctors attending the session found that more than three-quarters ‘strongly’ or ‘somewhat’ believed that physicians should have an obligation to practise self-awareness to lessen stress and maintain professionalism.

Other poll results included:

  • 94 per cent agreed that institutional policy was an important determinant for physician satisfaction and behaviour
  • 85 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that focusing exclusively on self-awareness to improve physician satisfaction and behaviour was short-sighted
  • 79 per cent agreed that doctors had to build resistance through individual self-awareness if satisfaction and behaviour in the medical workplace was to improve.

Cardiff University Centre for Psychological and Disability Research senior medical research fellow Deborah Cohen said: ‘Focus on the individual at your peril. If you really want to have change, think about the [working] environment.’

She added: ‘If you focus on the individual, your gains will be small. But if you focus on the population, your gains are far greater and far more sustainable.’

Massachusetts psychiatrist and Massachusetts Medical Society physician health services director Luis Sanchez said practising medicine was a ‘privilege not a right’, and doctors had an obligation to take responsibility for their health.

Dr Sanchez said: ‘A good doctor has to be a good patient … In order to be an excellent physician, your care comes first … We have to know who we are, what we like, what we are good at, and what we are not good at. It’s an obligation.’

He said medical students were taught about the importance of self-awareness. He added that in his talks to students, he stressed that they should resolve any alcohol misuse problems right away.

He also suggested that doctors in the workplace should take 15-minute ‘time-outs’ or short naps.

Dr Sanchez added: ‘What happened to lunch? It seems to me that for self-care and self-awareness, eating lunch every day with colleagues is a good place to start. What happened to naps? I think physicians should have two signs to put on their door — “doctors on time-out” and “doctors napping, back in 15 minutes”.’

College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan registrar Karen Shaw said: ‘Both issues are really important. The importance of self-awareness has to be fed into an institutional policy that is helpful to [the individual]…

‘One thing is missing – we don’t talk about the relationship between physicians and institutions and organisations. That’s what future work needs to focus on.’

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