When physicians and their entire team are mentally healthy, their patients will benefit from unbridled compassion, service, and joy when receiving healthcare.
– Cynthia Romero, MD

May recognizes Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to spotlight the importance of mental well-being. To honor this occasion, SafeHaven engaged in conversation with Drs. Sandy Chung, Varun Choudhary, and Cynthia Romero delving into insights they wish patients understood regarding clinician well-being and mental health.

Challenges like staff shortages, the quest for work-life equilibrium, and the prevalent issue of clinician burnout significantly impact the mental health of physicians and their teams.

Staff Shortage

Much like other industries, the medical field grapples with staffing shortages that extend beyond just physicians. Registered nurses, medical assistants, and even front desk personnel face shortages, leading to prolonged administrative tasks and placing additional responsibilities on clinicians. Dr. Sandy L. Chung, MD, FAAP, FACHE, a pediatrician and the current Virginia Mental Health Access Program (VMAP) Medical Director, sheds light on the predicament: “There’s a high likelihood that we lack the necessary staff numbers to run our practices optimally. Since the onset of the pandemic, a considerable number of support staff, nurses, and other clinicians have departed the profession.” Medscape’s Physician Burnout & Depression Report 2024 underscores that bureaucratic tasks like charting and paperwork are primary contributors to physician burnout, closely followed by excessive work hours.

Are you dealing with burnout symptoms in your healthcare profession? See how SafeHaven can help support you.

As a pediatrician, Dr. Chung recognizes the concerns families have regarding their children’s health. She urges patience and understanding from patients and their families, acknowledging the strain on the medical community due to staffing shortages: “We may not always have adequate staff to promptly answer calls or streamline office operations. We’re doing our utmost, understanding that you may be anxious about your child’s well-being. Your patience as we navigate these challenges is greatly appreciated.”

Work-Life Balance

Physicians are human beings who have their own flaws, quirks, and issues. They will often neglect their own well-being to continue to serve their patients and profession until it is too late.

– Varun Choudhary, MA, DFAPA.

Establishing a work-life balance is often touted as one of the best ways to combat job burnout, which is the number one contributor to physician depression. Work-life balance refers to the time and energy spent at work compared to personal life, like hobbies or spending time with loved ones.

“Pediatricians and other doctors face the same challenges with work-life balance as many of their patients,” remarks Dr. Chung. She elaborates, “Balancing a medical career, family obligations, and personal pursuits can be daunting. While at work, our focus is dedicated to patient care, yet like you, we often juggle numerous responsibilities daily for our loved ones.”

Dr. Cynthia Romero, Director of the M. Foscue Brock Institute for Community and Global Health, understands how important it is for clinicians and their patients that the healthcare team prioritizes their well-being. She says, “When physicians prioritize their own well-being, they are better equipped to support wellness and resilience in everyone they care for including their patients, their care team and their own families.”

Varun Choudhary MD, MA, DFAPA, former President of the Medical Society of Virginia Foundation, echoes the sentiment that achieving work-life balance for physicians is exceedingly tough. Dr. Choudhary emphasizes, “Being a physician ranks among the most stressful occupations. Medical education doesn’t equip doctors with skills to find equilibrium or self-care; rather, it emphasizes service.” Striking a balance between the innate urge to prioritize patients and allocating time for personal well-being is crucial for physician welfare.

Physician Burnout

Physicians thrive on the ability to serve their patients and deliver the best care. When anything interferes with this process it results in dissatisfaction. If this becomes a chronic matter it leads to disenchantment and eventually burnout.

– Varun Choudhary MD, MA, DFAPA

Physician Burnout is an accelerating problem in the healthcare workforce, one SafeHaven is trying its best to combat. Even now physician burnout and depression are higher than pre-pandemic levels. It’s is a systemic issue. “Physician burnout is a real problem, and it’s often due to factors beyond the control of individual physicians (or their patients).” Sandy L. Chung says.

Chung suggests to other doctors struggling with burnout to find moments of happiness in their daily life. “One way that doctors try to cope with [burnout] is to cultivate the joy in medicine.  Little reminders of why we went into medicine in the first place can be reinvigorating. Getting a high five from a toddler at his checkup is definitely on the list!”

If you are someone you know is suffering from clinician burnout, SafeHaven is here to help. Learn more on the benefits of SafeHaven here.