Last November, Fraser Health’s regional Medical Staff Wellness Committee welcomed 45 physician health champions from its 12 hospitals and 10 divisions, as well as health authority leadership, to brainstorm how Fraser Health could support and promote physician health.  As their ideas unfolded, the Committee realized that they were sowing the seeds for a regional Physician Health Program.

Dr. Connie Ruffo, physician health champion of Peace Arch Hospital’s Physician Wellness program was co-lead for the November event.  She has been involved in physician health efforts for more than a decade. She notes that “physician health” includes not only physical, mental and social well-being but the element of professional fulfillment which gives happiness and meaning in work.

She sees three influences on our well-being as doctors:

  1. How we care for ourselves.  “Basic health practices –what we eat, how much we exercise, sleep, connect with family and friends.  This, combined with resilience skills such as boundary setting, mindfulness, and energy management eases the distress of burnout; but alone won’t prevent it.  This element is very much under our control.”
  2. How we care for our colleagues. “This involves connecting and reaching out to support one another. Humans are wired to connect.  We listen to our patient’s stories everyday. It is also important for doctors to share their stories.  Sharing and connecting means feeling safe enough to be vulnerable.  Doctors understand doctors. This gets to culture, and changing how we communicate and interact with each other.”
  3. How we engage in changing the system.  “Once physicians become better connected, then it is easier to build healthy teams. Whether in the OR, the ER, hospitalists or other specialities, or divisions of family practice, we are all part of the system. Physicians have key skills and insights, and a professional responsibility to be leaders, advocates, educators and innovators. Together we really can influence system change. We can educate administrators and executive decision-makers, initiate and lead patient quality improvements and projects, and provide input on system proposals or decisions that will impact how we do our work to care for patients, and our well-being.  Facility Engagement funds are an amazing opportunity to do this.  We can choose where to direct our energy to make system changes to areas that burn us out.”

Dr. Ruffo refers to a landmark Mayo Clinic study which revealed that organizational-driven efforts which address workplace drivers of burnout (e.g. work flow, efficiency, technology) and provide opportunity for self-care, reduce burnout and promote engagement, can have an even greater effect than physician-driven wellness events.

“There are many organizational interventions that require small investments, yet have a very large impact.  Involvement by physician leaders and administrator attention to these factors were key to its success,” she says. Examples include supporting teamwork, training compassionate leaders and enhancing EMR efficiency.

“This is a very exciting time for those of us that have been involved in physician health over the years.  There is an explosive amount of research being done around the world.  There are new tools for measuring well being in physicians.  And, province-wide there is a phenomenal grass-roots movement occurring among doctors, who are declaring their need for vigorous community- based wellness programs, which are supported and acknowledged both regionally and provincially.”

Source: Mayo Clinic 


Fraser Health’s Medical Staff Wellness Committee wish to share the findings of their experiential workshop with other MSAs, divisions and health authorities, with the view that taking the priority of physician well-being to an organizational/ system level will help to raise awareness and stimulate action around this urgent issue across the province.  Some of the themes and directions they want to start exploring are here.

Acknowledgements:  The event developed for the FH Medical Staff Wellness Committee would not have been possible without the work of Dr. Elizabeth Froese and Dr. Laura Kelly.  Also, the support of Dr. Dayan Muthayan, Physician Partnerships, Fraser Health and Facility Engagement Director Cindy Myles were instrumental in its realization. 


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