June 21, 2018
When I first heard the phrase ‘joy in work’ I thought it was a little hokey. At the time, I loved my work and had a hard time imagining how anyone in health care would not get a sense of joy, or well-being and satisfaction, from being part of a patient’s care team.
As the years passed, I found myself feeling increasingly frustrated and tired. I didn’t stop caring about my patients and colleagues, but it became harder to sustain the sense of well-being I had for others and myself. Frankly, I lost some of my joy in work.
I did not hit burnout full on, but I think I was heading in that direction. You likely have also experienced something similar or perhaps you work alongside a colleague who meets the core elements of burnout: emotional exhaustion to the point of depersonalization combined with empathy fatigue. In a recent
survey, the Saskatchewan Medical Association found that 65 per cent of family physicians and 57 per cent of specialists self-reported that they are at risk of burnout.
As physicians, on an almost daily basis, we have the opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of the patients and families we set out to help. So where is the disconnect occurring?
Our line of work and our place of work are both contributing factors to our well-being: the emotional intensity, the time pressures, the stress of caring for patients with increasing degrees of chronic illness, and the lack of control we may feel over how we work within a complex health care system, to name but a few.
The risk of burnout is a concern not just for physicians but also for patients. Health care workers living with burnout are absent from work more often and are less productive when present. Most worrying is the correlation between burnout and higher rates of workplace injuries, as well as a lower quality of care, including decreased patient safety.
Thanks to the efforts of many in the health care system, we have a greater awareness and understanding of how to identify and counteract burnout through helpful strategies like self-monitoring, resiliency training and mindfulness.
While these strategies are an important place to start, they are insufficient on their own and need to be paired with a more systemic approach to physician and staff well-being. For many of us, our workplace is where we spend the majority of our waking hours. What if we redesign our system so that our patients have better care
and we have more joy? There is so much opportunity right now for us to be part of such a redesign, whether it is in our offices, clinics and wards, or on an even larger scale.
I consider myself lucky: I was able to recognize that I was in danger of burnout, to reflect on why I was feeling this way, and to step away from some of the work that was no longer bringing me joy so that I could replace it with work that did. Through this process, I discovered that my quality improvement work at a local and system level had an amazing side effect: joy!
As I learned more about how our health system works, the challenges that it faces and the strategies being used to improve it, I soon realized that the same things which gave me joy in my clinical work (interdisciplinary teams, an inquisitive mind and the willingness to test new solutions) were helping me to better understand the problems and solutions within our health system. Early successes gave me a sense of accomplishment, as did the realization that I had more control than I realized and could make a meaningful difference in the lives of patients and their families.
These opportunities have given new meaning to my work and have helped me to once again find joy in work. They also cause me to continuously ask: how can we redesign the health system to give physicians more time to connect with patients, to decrease frustrations and to provide a greater sense of control, so that we can go home at the end of the day with more gas in our tanks?
I’ll be addressing this question on Saturday, June 23 at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Medicine
Highlights in Medicine Conference (Room 1150 E-Wing of the Health Sciences Building at 0930, open to the public). At the conference, I have the honour of delivering the 4th Annual Dr. Anita Chakravarti’s Lecture in Wellness: Can Joy in Work Be a Prescription for System Transformation? Come join me if you want to hear more about the connection between joy and work, patient and staff safety, and how we can work together to improve patient and provider health and well-being.
If you or a colleague is struggling and are in need of assistance, I encourage you to reach out to the
SMA Physician Health Program.
Dr. Susan Shaw
Chief Medical Officer