Physician wellness is an important initiative that SEAMO is pleased to support, including hosting both an in-person retreat with Dr. Dyrbye and a peer support training workshop with Dr. Shapiro. SEAMO has created a new position in the Physician Wellness Lead. Dr. Melanie Jaeger is taking on this role. She is an associate professor in the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine having joined the Faculty at Queen’s in 2000. Clinically, she delivers anesthetics in the OR, and spends time on the wards managing acute pain. Academically, Dr. Jaeger has been very involved with postgraduate training including roles as Residency Program Director, CBME Lead for Anesthesiology and as a member of the Specialty Committee at the Royal College.
Dr. Jaeger’s personal connection to physician wellness is two-fold. On a personal level, having been a physician in acute care for 25 years, Dr. Jaeger says she has been through very challenging situations, from litigation to bad outcomes to errors in judgement. “When these events happen, they initiate a cascade of self-doubt and condemning self-analysis that invariably leaves me feeling distressed, depressed and distraught. Looking back now with a bit more perspective and experience, I realize how important it is in these situations to have a good look at how you are coping, to talk to someone, and to realize that you are not alone. We are human and we make mistakes, and we should not have to be defined nor destroyed by a singular adverse outcome,” she says. Years of being indoctrinated to always put the patient first, combined with a physician’s perfectionist characteristics, often allows the shame and critical voice inside to win out. “That can lead to a very negative spiral that impacts every aspect of your life and your wellness,” she says.
On another level, Dr. Jaeger says physician wellness has a direct effect on patient care. She says, “Both patient care decisions and healthcare team interactions suffer when a physician is exhausted and burned out. I have spent my career in operating rooms where successful outcomes depend on effective team dynamics. But if one member of the team is under significant stress, exhausted or unwell, the functioning of the entire team can be threatened, and this puts our patients at risk. Our patients need us to be well.”
Dr. Jaeger wants to send the message that our organizations and partners care about physician wellness, because they do. “Our website offers a place you can go to see our initiatives such as the Peer Support Program, our efforts to ensure that every faculty member has a Family Doctor, and the activities/members of our Physician Wellness Advisory Committee. You can also find how to confidentially reach out for help, or access other resources,” she says. Physician wellness is part of the Quadruple Aim Framework that is the vision for health care in Ontario. Through the physician wellness activities of each of our partner organizations, we can ensure a healthier physician workforce. She says, “One day, I would love to see a Physician Wellness Champion at every decision-making table in our organizations to encourage consideration of the unintended consequences some decisions have on our wellness.”
Dr. Jaeger has a message for those physicians struggling with overwhelming stress or burnout: “You are not alone. Many of us feel (or have felt) like you do right now. Talk to someone you trust and ask for help. Your colleagues at the Peer Support Program can empathize and help you get through this. They can also recommend additional resources and how to access them. Dealing with everything on your own is an extremely difficult journey.”
According to Dr. Jaeger, everyone at every level needs to acknowledge the importance of physician wellness. “SEAMO, our hospitals, our administration and our university have committed. We need to do it for ourselves, our patients and our colleagues.”
For more information on physician wellness, visit our website. To reach out to Dr. Jaeger for information about physician wellness or to get in touch with a peer supporter, email firstname.lastname@example.org.