MADISON — According to a recent study by the Cleveland Clinic, more than one-third of physicians are in a silent battle with professional burnout. Physicians dealing with mental, emotional and physical exhaustion become less able to provide quality care to their patients and find themselves leaving the medical profession altogether…or worse. It’s the “or worse” scenario that worries Dr. Debbie Kolb of Madison.
As president of the Madison County Medical Society, Dr. Kolb wanted to make a difference in the lives of her colleagues. Together with a wellness committee she chairs, they began to formulate a plan to help physicians in the area who felt overwhelmed in their medical practice and achieve a better work-life balance. They had no idea the vast support they would have for the Physicians Resource Network Wellness Program.
“My father is a retired radiologist,” Dr. Kolb explained. “I remember being in school and hearing about a friend of my fathers who changed careers. I was mystified by that. I didn’t know that was even an option. I’d never heard of a physician changing careers. It’s not even on your radar once you’re in the medical profession. If you do change careers, it’s to go into pharmaceuticals, medical directorships, or to be a life coach. For physicians, it’s truly a business decision once you leave the profession. It’s sad really to think you could burn out so badly that you leave the profession you loved so much completely behind you.”
But, it’s happening more and more to physicians. With the added pressures of government regulations, such as MACRA, electronic health records, ICD-10, and Medicaid funding, the practice of medicine has become even more complicated today than it was just a decade ago. Unfortunately, these pressures have caused physicians to burnout and not only voluntarily leave the profession of medicine, lose their medical license for inappropriate behavior, or commit suicide.
Dr. Kolb’s mission is to help her colleagues prevent burnout by learning how to cope with its symptoms and find a better work-life balance. Her mission began in 2014 at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Family Physicians where she first met Dr. Dike Drummond, better known as The Happy MD, and discovered his book, Stop Physician Burnout.
“This book transcends medicine, and his website is great, too. I was so impressed with his actionable advice. What he gives you to do is really good nuts-and-bolts that made me want to bring him to Huntsville so my colleagues could hear him locally. We’ve had three physician suicides in two and a half years in Madison County alone. So it really became more and more apparent that we needed to do something. This is heartbreaking and preventable. All of this coalesced to really be something that we could all get behind.”
As Dr. Kolb and her colleagues admit, everything begins with a discussion. But, little did they know just how many lives they were about to touch when they rolled out the first component of their burnout program. The first step was an evening event with Dr. Drummond, which sold out 200 seats and had a waiting list for attendees.
“Burnout transcends specialties, and that’s why our physicians have been so appreciative of this program. After the event with Dr. Drummond, we had people commenting and sharing their stories on social media. That’s what we’re trying to do — effect a paradigm shift in the culture of medicine. We really want to let our colleagues know that this is more common than they may realize because physicians just don’t talk about it. We want to start talking about it,” Dr. Kolb said.
*Thanks to the following physicians, committee, Madison County Medical Alliance members, as well as our sponsors whose generosity in time and funding helped make this program a reality:
Wellness committee volunteers include: Board of Trustee members Drs. Aruna Arora, Greg Bouska, James Gilbert, Dawn Mancuso, Paul Tabereaux, Sherrie Squyres and Tarak Vasavada; therapist Dr. Violet Gilbert; Madison County Medical Alliance President Christina Tabereaux; and MCMS Executive Director Laura Moss. While not a committee member, MCMS Past President Dr. Amit Arora has also been instrumental in supporting this mission.
Burnout Proof LIVE was made possible by the generous donations of Huntsville Hospital, ProAssurance, the Madison County Medical Alliance, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, ServisFirst Bank, Fyzical Therapy and Balance Centers, Crestwood Medical Center, Dr. Hayes Whiteside and the Medical Association of the State of Alabama.