Strengthening support, shedding the stigma

Published: May 15, 2018
Leaders at UF Health Jacksonville are strengthening support for physicians in distress. View Larger Image

Resources are available for physicians and staff in distress

Patient caseloads and other clinical demands, academic responsibilities, meetings and paperwork consume a physician’s time. Add personal commitments and obligations to the list, and the chances for burnout are high.

Physicians face unique challenges. The stress is all too real and, unfortunately, can sometimes lead to depression and even suicidal thoughts. The University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville wants to remind its faculty physicians, residents and fellows that resources are available if they ever need help.

Mark McIntosh, MD, an associate professor of emergency medicine and medical director of employee wellness at UF Health Jacksonville, heads a committee focusing on wellness that meets twice a month to discuss ways to improve support for physicians on campus.

“We want to help doctors take care of themselves,” McIntosh said. “As providers, we’re always giving, but too often, we don’t focus on our own needs. If you’re going to be involved in a career in medicine, you must understand the risks of burnout.”

In addition to reminding faculty of available services, such as the employee assistance program, the committee wants to help shed the stigma on mental illness and create an environment where people feel more comfortable seeking help for their problems.

“We’re really trying to change the culture and destigmatize mental health problems,” said Allison Ventura, PhD, a UF Health psychologist who serves on the committee. “In the medical world, there’s this ‘forget about your problems and just suck it up’ mentality. That mindset has to change. Let’s help each other, provide more mentoring and have more conversations about this.”

Each year in the United States, between 300 and 400 physicians take their own lives, according to data cited by the American Medical Association. Studies also suggest the suicide rate among female physicians is 130 percent higher than women in general. Among male physicians, it’s 40 percent higher.

“The rates of depression and suicide are high, and it’s something we need to talk about and address,” Ventura said.

The committee’s goals are to strengthen existing services to create a comprehensive wellness program, develop and implement a crisis response plan and establish a program for second victims. A “second victim” is a health care provider who experiences emotional trauma following an adverse patient outcome.

Leon L. Haley Jr., MD, MHSA, CEO of UF Health Jacksonville and dean of the college, champions these efforts, adding that physician wellness became a priority soon after he arrived on campus more than a year ago.

“We need to truly examine the support we have in place for faculty, residents and staff,” Haley said. “Having engaged employees is critical to any organization. And what becomes clear is that there’s a whole wellness component to it. We are looking to provide more resources and ensure those resources are easy to access.”

Links to support

  • ComPsych Guidance Resources is the new employee assistance program, providing 24/7 support and access to counselors who offer confidential, short-term support for personal issues. The service provides emotional support, work-life solutions, legal guidance and financial advice for faculty, staff and residents, as well as their family members. If necessary, referrals can be made.
  • Members of the Duval County Medical Society have access to its free and confidential wellness program, which is specifically designed to address physician burnout. In-person appointments with a counselor are available within 24 hours of the request, including before and after normal business hours. Member physicians can receive up to six counseling sessions per year. No insurance is billed and no electronic records are created.
Leaders at UF Health Jacksonville are strengthening support for physicians in distress.

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UF Health Media Relations