In 2011, the Eugene Oregon medical community was rocked when three prominent and well-loved physicians took their own lives. As Lane County Medical Society’s former Executive Director Candice Barr told it, the community came to her office and pleaded that they do something about it. Her board gave her carte blanche and she rapidly engineered and launched a Physicians Wellness Program known as Professional Courtesy which has now been running successfully for four years.
When I heard about it in early 2015, I had only just started at Ada County Medical Society and was becoming quickly aware of the burnout epidemic among physicians. A few months prior, the Mayo Clinic had released its alarming report that nationwide physician burnout had grown from 45% to 54% in just three years. Suddenly, everybody started to pay attention to what appeared to be a train-wreck in motion.
Our board of directors had two strategic planning sessions that spring and settled on two key initiatives for the foreseeable future: supporting early career physicians and burnout prevention. ECP was pretty simple: we launched Adopt-a-Resident and also started a series in 2016 that drew 70 different physicians to four quarterly roundtable dinner discussions. This coming year, that will morph into serving early, mid and late career physicians with germane topics about each stage of a physician’s life.
Getting our own physician wellness program started was a slower burn. It was critical that this not be led strictly by me, an administrator, but by physicians and mental health professionals who would provide the experience, wisdom, and expertise needed to create a high-quality program. Meeting with the Family Medicine Residency of Idaho, Saint Alphonsus, and St. Luke’s Health Systems we asked this question: “We know y’all have EAP (Employer Assisted Programs) available for employees, but do they actually get used by physicians? Would your physicians more likely use a similar program if their employer was not notified about their utilization?” The answer turned out to be an overwhelming “YES.”
We carefully formed our wellness committee this spring with two current ACMS board officers, two at-large board members, two ACMS members, and two doctoral level psychologists who work with physicians. All are passionate about physician health. We put out RFP’s for potential psychotherapists, vetted them with site visits to see if they were sensitive to physician pressures, and established contracts. This fall, psychiatrist Jeremy Stoddart, MD became our volunteer medical director.
Today, we are very proud to announce the launch of the Physician Vitality Program. All ACMS members - both active and retired physicans, PAs, NPs, and residents - have access to up to 8 psychotherapy sessions during a twelve-month period at no cost. The program is designed for maximum confidentiality and our members may make their appointments directly with the therapist who will confirm ACMS membership. Services are provided without notification to us, physicians’ employers, nor the Board of Medicine. At this time, counseling locations are in Downtown Boise and Meridian and available at various hours, depending on the therapist.
ACMS is in the second wave of local medical societies nationwide launching such a program following behind Lane County, Portland Metropolitan and Lexington, Kentucky's medical societies. (By the way, we’re very grateful for their design input and encouragement.) Although we recognize that the source of physician burnout is often based on organizational, systemic and industry challenges, and not just a “personal problem,” we are very happy to offer this program as a partial answer to the crushing stress that many physicians face today. We hope you’ll join us in letting your colleagues know that it is available for their use.
For more information and other resources, check out our Physician Vitality Center on our website.