Message from the Foundation Board Chair, Dr. Britt Peterson

October 24, 2017

WCMS Healthy Healer Program Awarded Grant from Physicians Foundation!


Britt Peterson, MD, WCMS Foundation Board Chair


Most physicians and physician assistants (PAs) are aware of the increasing trend of burnout that faces our profession.  The challenge remains how to best address this crisis that threatens not only our enjoyment of medicine but its effects on the patient experience and the overall vitality of our health care system.  As we know in teaching our patients about managing their health, there is often a desire for a magic pill/solution that will make the problem go away.  For example, I often catch myself thinking, “If only I had a scribe to deal with the Electronic Medical Record, how much better my life would be!” However, if I am to think more rationally, there really has to be a broader, multimodal strategy to address burnout.


In regards to burnout prevention strategies that are accessible right now, I am pleased to announce, as Chairman of our WCMS Foundation Board, that the Western Carolina Medical Society Foundation’s (WCMS) Healthy Healer Program was awarded a two year grant of $127,938  by the Physicians Foundation to develop a replicable program to address the growing trend of physician and PA burnout.  This program is one component of what will need to be a larger, cooperative strategy with commitments from health care systems, third party payers, and policy makers to address this problem.  However, I believe even on its own, The Healthy Healer Program will be an incredibly helpful, robust, and accessible tool to our members for addressing burnout when it arises.


I want to summarize how the WCMS Association and Foundation Boards came to develop the Healthy Healer Program and believes it to be a potential model for other medical societies and associations.  For the past 3 years, addressing physician/PA burnout has been at the top of WCMS’ strategic agenda. We know more than half of US physicians are now experiencing professional burnout, and a growing number of WCMS physicians have cited this issue at the top of their list of professional and personal concerns.  WCMS is particularly concerned with creating a culture in the House of Medicine that supports instead of stigmatizes providers who seek help for any distress in their lives, particularly when the practice of medicine contributes to this suffering.  The medical society’s goal is to create a safe, neutral, confidential welcoming space for all physicians, PAs and their families who need and seek help when facing psychological or emotional suffering.  We created the Healthy Healer Program based on nationally recognized models (including initiatives of the Lane County Medical Society in Oregon and Ada County Medical  Society in Idaho) to help drive this cultural shift within our medical community. The most important elements of The Healthy Healer offerings are that they are physician-initiated, separate and independent from 3rd parties, and not reportable to the NCMB.


Physicians have been invested in both in the creation and oversight of this initiative, but we also recognize the importance of financial resources needed for the program to ultimately be successful.  In order to maximize available capital through grants and fundraising, the WCMS Foundation Board, which has as its majority our own physician members, will be overseeing the Healthy Healer Program (HHP) to facilitate these important factors to the success and sustainability of the program.


The key factors of the Healthy Healer Program include the following tiers of resources:

  1. Educational CME offerings that focus on prevention and basic management strategies of burnout. WCMS has already developed and will continue to develop high quality educational materials, meetings, seminars and retreats for physicians, PAs and their loved ones 1-2 times each year.
  2. Professional coaching for specific strategy development. We are now facilitating private coaching from certified, experienced coaching professionals from a variety of different perspectives. Coaches can address personal skills development and self-care, maximizing team efficiency, and advocacy for organizational changes that enable and inspire physicians and PAs to maximize their personal and professional potential.
  3. Specialized counseling/therapy/mental health care. When higher level needs are necessary, confidential, discreet and convenient therapy services from licensed mental health professionals are also available in order to enable members to address more significant challenges to their mental health and well-being.


As part of our grant, WCMS is collecting non-identifiable data from participants, in order to aggregate and evaluate the strengths and limitations of The Healthy Healer Program. Evaluation data will be used to develop further understanding of the reasons why physicians are seeking services and the factors that have played into their feelings of burnout. Evaluation data will be used throughout the course of the grant to make program improvements and to assist health care systems, practices, and other organizations with which physicians interact to better address the symptoms and consequences of burnout in their particular work environments.

Our hope is that the Healthy Healer Program is relevant not just to our members but as a replicable resource for other medical societies and physician-led organizations.  For both these endeavors, we do desire your help in the following ways.

  1. If you need help, please use the resources!  It will help not only you, but your patients, your associated practices and health care systems, and your peers to have this be a vital resource and source of data in the fight against burnout. 
  2. Attend our educational CME events.
  3. Provide feedback for our leadership and program staff if you have any suggestions as to what programming ideas or changes would make this initiative a more relevant resource for you and your peers.
  4. Finally, we welcome anyone who would like to be more directly involved in further development and oversight of the Healthy Healer Program by joining our working WCMS committee. 


I believe this grant WCMS has received is validation of its potential to provide a route for the even larger medical community in our state and nation to follow in fighting against the incredibly important issue of physician burnout.  We would welcome any level of participation that members like you can provide to make the biggest impact possible for you, our care systems, and our patients in these efforts.