Prioritizing self-care and recognizing distressed colleagues are key to preventing physician burnout

Michael Myers, MD

Physician burnout has rippled through the medical field for years, but now that many health-care workers are facing unprecedented challenges on the front lines of COVID-19, the burnout worry is exacerbated.

“Everything has been ramped up a little bit in terms of doctors having more anxiety about contagion, not having enough PPE, and the challenges of taking care of critically ill patients,” said Michael Myers, MD, a professor of clinical psychiatry and immediate past vice chair of education and director of training in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at SUNY-Downstate Medical Center.

Tuesday’s session, How to Identify Distressed Physician Colleagues and Stop Them From Dying by Suicide, from 8:45 am to 9:45 am CT will discuss warning signs of depression in doctors, available resources, and consequences of addiction/alcoholism that go untreated.

Rajive Tandon, MD, FCCP, a pulmonologist, will open up about his personal story with burnout, substance abuse, and recovery, sharing his challenges and the methods that worked for him. He will open the session with his talk “Journey Through Burnout, Addictions, and Sobriety.”

“It’s a very powerful and moving story,” Dr. Myers said. “I think that it will resonate with some people in the audience.”

Dr. Myers will share “How to Recognize and Help Your Colleagues in Trouble,” in addition to addressing how to tend to a colleague on medical leave or in residential treatment for substance use.

“We have to make sure that we care for each other in medicine,” he said.

Kevin Simon, MD, a fellow in child and adolescent psychiatry at Harvard Catalyst, will specifically talk about vulnerabilities of minority trainees and physicians in the US. He’ll address the overt and not-so-overt discrimination in training as well as in practice, and define microinequities and microaggressions that occur in the lives of minority physicians.

“There are many physicians who are not minorities who don’t even know what microinequities are, so he’s going to talk about how that leads up to and affects physician health and wellbeing,” Dr. Myers said. Simon’s talk is called “Suicide in Health Professionals of Color.”

Each presenter will also offer tips for self-care from their own experiences and perspectives. Dr. Tandon will talk about the things he’s learned about self-care that he didn’t know before he got in trouble. Dr. Simon will talk about self-care in a way that appeals to residents and fellows in training, and Dr. Myers will address self-care that’s specifically relevant for physicians in their mid- to late careers.

“ ‘Suicide prevention is everyone’s business’ is a quote from former US Surgeon General David Satcher, and I believe in that strongly,” said Dr. Myers, who wrote the book Why Physicians Die by Suicide: Lessons Learned from Their Families and Others Who Cared.

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