North Carolina Medical Society Takes the Lead Supporting Physician Health

NC Medical Society Executive Vice President and CEO Robert W. Seligson answers questions regarding the society's recently launched efforts to promote and support physicians wellness.

Doctors experience much higher rates of stress and suicide risk than members of the general population, but are less likely to seek help. In your opinion, what are the primary stressors for physicians?

By its very nature being a physician is a stressful job. Sometimes you are dealing with life and death decisions. Oftentimes you are interacting with patients and others at highly emotional times. As compassionate, caring individuals, physicians may have gone into medicine and are successful because they are skilled at handling these types of stressors. Sometimes, however, it can be overwhelming, especially if the physician is not taking care of him or herself, or they feel stigmatized if they seek help. I think today’s physicians also are faced with new regulations that have nothing to do with directly caring for patients – purely bureaucratic tasks. Also, our health care system is in a state of flux with physicians feeling the changes acutely.  Solo or independent practitioners may be under financial pressures to join large health care systems, and new payment models are fueling even more uncertainty. All of this creates stress unique to physicians – beyond the stress anyone in today’s society may feel.

You have indicated that the NC Medical Society plans to expand resources for physicians experiencing stress and burnout. How do you plan to reach at-risk physicians?

We are offering the NCMS as an organization willing to take on this issue, open to helping physicians. We are working hard to develop useful resources for them. We hope any physician with ideas on how to address this issue will contact us. We’re developing our online resources and, most immediately, are offering several sessions addressing burnout and physician resilience at our annual conference in September. We also are working with experts from the NC Physicians Health Program and the NC Medical Board to expand our reach and hope to eliminate some of the stigma attached to admitting to being burned out and in need of help.

You have referenced the “joy of practicing medicine.” Today physicians face a dramatically increased administrative burden that will likely grow as new policy changes are enacted. What can be done to reduce this administrative burden, especially for physicians from small or solo practices?

Yes, this is definitely a stressor frequently mentioned by our physician members. Change is stressful there is no doubt. Certainly, the North Carolina Medical Society has a long history of successful lobbying efforts on behalf of our members to protect them from unwarranted bureaucracy at the state level. With the massive federal MACRA legislation, we are working with our congressional delegation and the AMA to make sure it is implemented in a reasonable timeframe and that the many details are considered as to their impact on the small rural practitioner, for instance. We are facilitating training sessions for just such practices through our Rural ACO Initiative.

I also see one of our roles as a professional association as easing the stress of this additional burden by providing information to help our members understand what is happening – knowledge is power. Part of this is providing training to help them be effective leaders allowing them to guide the change as much as possible. We have a highly regarded leadership training institute that helps accomplish this.

Recently, we’ve launched a new effort to more directly address the unhealthy stress itself through our physician wellness initiative. We’re working with our members to better define what resources would help them stay balanced and resilient through these turbulent times. We’ve offered educational sessions at our annual conference and we have joined with our state medical board and our state’s physician health program as well as other health care organizations to comprehensively address the issue of physician burnout. This work is incumbent upon us at the professional organization representing the interests of North Carolina physicians.

This article from the Raleigh News & Observer provides more information about NCMS efforts.

Other articles of interest:

Doctors confront their own depression/suicide risk.

Kansas City med students help address physician health.

 

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NC Medical Society Executive Vice President and CEO Robert W. Seligson answers questions regarding the society's recently launched efforts to promote and support physicians wellness.

Doctors experience much higher rates of stress and suicide risk than members of the general population, but are less likely to seek help. In your opinion, what are the primary stressors for physicians?

By its very nature being a physician is a stressful job. Sometimes you are dealing with life and death decisions. Oftentimes you are interacting with patients and others at highly emotional times. As compassionate, caring individuals, physicians may have gone into medicine and are successful because they are skilled at handling these types of stressors. Sometimes, however, it can be overwhelming, especially if the physician is not taking care of him or herself, or they feel stigmatized if they seek help. I think today’s physicians also are faced with new regulations that have nothing to do with directly caring for patients – purely bureaucratic tasks. Also, our health care system is in a state of flux with physicians feeling the changes acutely.  Solo or independent practitioners may be under financial pressures to join large health care systems, and new payment models are fueling even more uncertainty. All of this creates stress unique to physicians – beyond the stress anyone in today’s society may feel.

You have indicated that the NC Medical Society plans to expand resources for physicians experiencing stress and burnout. How do you plan to reach at-risk physicians?

We are offering the NCMS as an organization willing to take on this issue, open to helping physicians. We are working hard to develop useful resources for them. We hope any physician with ideas on how to address this issue will contact us. We’re developing our online resources and, most immediately, are offering several sessions addressing burnout and physician resilience at our annual conference in September. We also are working with experts from the NC Physicians Health Program and the NC Medical Board to expand our reach and hope to eliminate some of the stigma attached to admitting to being burned out and in need of help.

You have referenced the “joy of practicing medicine.” Today physicians face a dramatically increased administrative burden that will likely grow as new policy changes are enacted. What can be done to reduce this administrative burden, especially for physicians from small or solo practices?

Yes, this is definitely a stressor frequently mentioned by our physician members. Change is stressful there is no doubt. Certainly, the North Carolina Medical Society has a long history of successful lobbying efforts on behalf of our members to protect them from unwarranted bureaucracy at the state level. With the massive federal MACRA legislation, we are working with our congressional delegation and the AMA to make sure it is implemented in a reasonable timeframe and that the many details are considered as to their impact on the small rural practitioner, for instance. We are facilitating training sessions for just such practices through our Rural ACO Initiative.

I also see one of our roles as a professional association as easing the stress of this additional burden by providing information to help our members understand what is happening – knowledge is power. Part of this is providing training to help them be effective leaders allowing them to guide the change as much as possible. We have a highly regarded leadership training institute that helps accomplish this.

Recently, we’ve launched a new effort to more directly address the unhealthy stress itself through our physician wellness initiative. We’re working with our members to better define what resources would help them stay balanced and resilient through these turbulent times. We’ve offered educational sessions at our annual conference and we have joined with our state medical board and our state’s physician health program as well as other health care organizations to comprehensively address the issue of physician burnout. This work is incumbent upon us at the professional organization representing the interests of North Carolina physicians.

This article from the Raleigh News & Observer provides more information about NCMS efforts.

Other articles of interest:

Doctors confront their own depression/suicide risk.

Kansas City med students help address physician health.