What if each doctor in contact with medical students and residents acknowledge that they are a diverse group with their own inherent strengths and weaknesses?
Some residents will have mastered the knowledge within the pages of the textbook and can easily recite it during attending rounds. Others will have a natural bedside manner making patients feel comfortable, so that the admission history and physical exams are more complete. Others will be leaders. Nurses, therapists, and social workers will naturally gravitate toward working with them. From this new vantage point, each physician in training becomes an asset, contributing his or her gifts and talents to the team.
Instead of resident teams being a group of individual doctors vying in a competition to be recognized as the best, residents could be encouraged to support one another. Working together optimizes patient care and creates the opportunity for personal growth and development as a physician and as a person. The concept of sharing information, learning from each other’s strengths, and supporting one another to identify and develop their weaknesses creates a culture of collegiality and cooperation. This becomes the new focal point of each rotation.
Attention is placed on looking at the causes and solutions to physician burnout. Articles and social media posts are published almost daily discussing some aspect of physician burnout, from its causes, to who is to blame, to what are the possible solutions. Is it because of the depersonalization of medicine with the integration of electronic medical record? Or is it because of increased patient volume with less available resources? It’s probably a combination of all the factors that make medicine what it has become today.
While the pursuit of medicine is a noble one, it often removes the medical student and resident from the proximity of their support group of family and friends, without a viable option for replacement. The very people who are learning how to care for patients are in a system where either you make it or break it.
Medical students and residents keep showing up for the rotations. They are doing their best to keep pace with patient volume and information without the resources or systems in place to support themselves when they become overwhelmed, frustrated, or burned out. They may even lack the benefit of support from a co-resident or friend in the program.
The hours are long. Living on the cusp of life and death is a huge responsibility. These are everyday challenges in medicine. Successful teams respect one another, give constructive feedback without demoralizing one another, and grow collectively. The time has come for medicine to adopt these tenets so that we can begin to make a dent in physician burnout and residents can be optimistic about the next shift.
Stephanie Wellington is a physician and can be reached at Nurturing MDs.
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