WCMS Foundation Awarded Two-Year Grant from Physicians Foundation “WCMS Healthy Healer Program: Using the Medical Society as a Vehicle to Address Physician Burnout”

November 6, 2017

The Western Carolina Medical Society Foundation’s (WCMS) Healthy Healer Program has been awarded a two-year grant from The Physicians Foundation to develop a replicable program for medical societies to address the growing trend of physician burnout. Using the medical society as a trusted and neutral vehicle, WCMS will offer easily accessible coaching, counseling, burnout prevention retreats, and other local resources to all physicians in the region, regardless of institutional affiliation.

According to the Mayo Clinic, burnout and satisfaction with work-life balance in US physicians worsened from 2011 to 2014 (Mayo Clinic Proc. December 2015; 90(12):1600-1613). More than half of US physicians are now experiencing professional burnout, including emotional exhaustion, depersonalization of patients, and low sense of accomplishment. Thirty percent of doctors would not choose a medical career again, nor would they recommend it to their children. Between 350-400 physicians commit suicide each year, a rate that is 1.5-2 times higher than the general population (Physician wellness: a missing quality indicator, Wallace, Lemaire, Ghali, www.thelancet.com, Vol 374 Nov 14, 2009).

“In addition to the startling data about burnout, what really spurred WCMS to create the Healthy Healer Program was a conversation WCMS leadership had over a year ago with the widow of a physician who had committed suicide,” observes CEO Miriam Schwarz. “She cited her inability to find help when she saw her husband’s condition deteriorate into desperation. She told us: ‘I looked everywhere for help, online, local and state medical society, and there was nothing!  I felt so alone.’”

“This widow’s statement served as WCMS’ relentless charge to provide a safe, neutral, confidential welcoming place for all physicians, physician assistants and their families who need and seek help,” says Dr. Robert Henderson, one of the founding physicians of WCMS’ Healthy Healer Program (HHP).

The Healthy Healer Program is developed and sanctioned by physicians for physicians. The WCMS Foundation Board of Directors oversees the Healthy Healer Program, and leadership includes Drs. Britt Peterson (Psychiatry) and Mark Jaben (Emergency Medicine) as physician co-chairs of the HHP. WCMS is modeling its program after several successful therapy-based programs already in place across the country, specifically the Lane County Medical Society Physician Wellness Program in Eugene, OR and the Ada County Medical Society Physician Vitality Program in Boise, ID.

WCMS is committed to improving both the health of the community and lowering the cost of care, in which physicians play a key role.  “WCMS strives to create a culture in the house of medicine that supports, instead of stigmatizes, healthcare professionals who seek help in addressing burnout and other aspects of their mental health,” say Co-Chair Physician Leaders of the HHP Drs. Mark Jaben and Britt Peterson.  “Through our program health care providers can recover, reclaim their lives and return to the workplace with enhanced productivity and efficiency.  Quality of patient care and patient safety also improve.  As a result, healthcare provider turnover and its inherent costs to health systems and medical practices decrease.”

Physicians and physician assistants: If you or your colleagues are experiencing burnout (such as emotional exhaustion, depersonalization of patients, and low sense of accomplishment), take action. You can find more information about WCMS’ Healthy Healer Program here or by calling the CEO in confidence at 828-274-2267, x. 1312.

About The Physicians Foundation:

The Physicians Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that seeks to empower physicians to lead in the delivery of high-quality, cost-efficient healthcare. As the U.S. healthcare system continues to evolve, The Physicians Foundation is steadfast in its determination to strengthen the physician-patient relationship, support physicians in sustaining their medical practices and help practicing physicians navigate the changing healthcare system.

The Physicians Foundation pursues its mission through a variety of activities including grant making, research and policy studies.

About the Western Carolina Medical Society:

The Western Carolina Medical Society was established in 1885 by area physicians. Throughout its history, WCMS has been an innovator in supporting and advocating for physicians in the practice of medicine, and working collaboratively with area organizations to address the health challenges facing our community’s residents. We serve 16 counties in the westernmost part of North Carolina, most of which is rural. Our vision is to be a dynamic physician community dedicated to a healthy, vibrant western North Carolina.

The WCMS Association’s mission is to be the physicians’ voice advocating for the health of the physician, the patient, and the community, through strengthening the physician-patient relationship. We currently have 700 members, many of whom are rurally based.

The WCMS Foundation’s (a 501(c)(3) organization and applicant for this grant) mission is the physician- and community-led charitable arm of the medical society improving access to quality healthcare, decreasing disparities in health, and promoting health & wellness.

About WCMS’ Healthy Healer Program (HHP): WCMS is a neutral, welcoming, safe, supportive entity run by physicians for physicians and will uphold physician and family confidentiality. The HHP focuses on the whole person, both inside and outside of medicine, and includes their personal and professional wellbeing and growth. WCMS believes that the physician family is key to physician wellness. Our program will advocate humanizing the work environment, providing prevention training, and building skills for self-awareness so that burnout can be prevented and addressed as it arises. WCMS will advocate for community awareness of the issue and garner support.