Healing the Healer: Restoring the Joy in Practicing Medicine

David Birdsall

David Birdsall , MD

Chief Operations Officer

Published May 30, 2019

Physicians enjoying practicing medicine

It’s no secret that burnout among healthcare providers has reached an all-time high. Forty-two percent of physicians reported experiencing burnout in 2018, according to Medscape’s annual survey.

Electronic health record data entry, learning about new payment models, extensive quality and productivity metrics documentation, and other administrative requirements are taking many providers away from quality face-to-face time with patients.

And those additional pressures have serious negative repercussions, with many physicians reporting significant career dissatisfaction, frustration, burnout, and stress.

As cliché as it sounds, most providers went into medicine because of the joy and satisfaction in healing people — not to juggle an ever-increasing number of administrative tasks that don’t require medical training.

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement's Triple Aim of healthcare reform calls for improved population health, better patient experience, and decreased per capita costs. But without satisfied, healthy providers, the Triple Aim is difficult to achieve. To that end, researchers recently proposed a fourth aim: improving the work life of healthcare providers, including physicians and other clinicians.

Preventing burnout and finding joy are two different things (although ideally, we can achieve both). In this post, I’d like to talk about rediscovering the joy of practicing medicine.

The Perfect Shift

I had an amazing shift in the ED the other day. When I arrived for work, everyone was glad to see me. It’s a pleasure to work with people who feel as strongly about the practice of medicine as I do and with whom I have a sense of camaraderie.

I had a pharmacist helping me with important medication reconciliation issues and a case manager working on patient disposition, two tasks that often fall on my shoulders. I also had a scribe that day, which allowed me more freedom to sit face to face and connect personally with patients. I feel joyful when I don’t feel rushed — when I can actually be in the moment with each patient.

What also made it an enjoyable shift was that I had exercised the day before and had gotten a good night’s sleep. Maintaining a balanced and healthy lifestyle can make all the different in your outlook on work and life in general.

Finding Your Joy

Not every shift is a perfect as that one was. Some days I struggle to reconnect with that joy in practicing medicine. But when I think about the things that bring me joy on the job and work to recreate them, it reignites my sense of fulfillment.

Collectively, what can providers and healthcare organizations do to reinvigorate the sense of joy in practicing medicine? Here are some suggestions:

  • Identify your sources of joy. It may sound simplistic, but the exercise of asking yourself what brings you joy in your work is a great place to start. We’ve all had good and bad days on the job. Think about a recent good day and what made it that way. Write it down and ask yourself how you can replicate those good days.
  • Build a strong culture. If you have a good rapport with your colleagues and know them on a personal level, your shift becomes much more enjoyable. Celebrating birthdays, acknowledging a job well done, or having a potluck are simple, effective ideas to foster camaraderie and teamwork. When those deeper relationships take root, you build a culture of teamwork that makes your department function smoothly.
  • Support your providers. For healthcare organizations, supporting your clinicians in wellness is critical to success. Look for ways to remove some of the burden of administrative tasks, so that providers can focus on patient care.
  • Conduct a survey. It can be eye-opening to survey providers and discover tools they wish they had or sources of frustration. The solutions are often very simple. At my site a few years ago, we had one printer for all of the providers in the ED. So, if two people pressed print at the same time, the pages got intermingled and it was a big hassle to sort out. To solve the problem, the hospital purchased printers for each workstation, eliminating a big source of frustration.

The Joy in Medicine Initiative

The careers to which we’ve dedicated ourselves should be a source of satisfaction and joy. To that end, Vituity has launched a Joy in Medicine initiative that encompasses wellness, leadership development, coaching for engagement and empathy, and teambuilding.

As the Quadruple Aim suggests, focusing on provider well-being is good medicine for everyone.

To learn more about Vituity’s Joy in Medicine program, read this post

Last updated May 31, 2019.

Partnering to improve patient lives

Vituity branding orange wave pattern background