Creating a culture of physician wellness: Q&A with Leslie Flynn, MD, FRCPC
Dr. Leslie Flynn, chair of the Physician Wellness Task Force.
The Royal College’s Physician Wellness Task Force released a report in early June with 15 practical recommendations for incorporating physician wellness into the learning environment. We asked Dr. Leslie Flynn, vice dean of education in the Department of Psychiatry at Queen’s University School of Medicine, and chair of the Physician Wellness Task Force, about the research and what it reveals.
Why did you and the Royal College embark on this research project?
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) in 2017 found that 30 per cent of practising physicians and residents were burned out. We set out that year to do evidence-based research that would support the development of tools and educational materials for deans, program directors and continuing professional development practitioners in their efforts to protect physician wellness. Leaders need to prepare learners for a future where wellness is key throughout their career.
Why is physician wellness such a concern?
Physician health is linked to competent patient care, patient safety and patient satisfaction. Health care provider wellness is fundamental to a well-functioning health care system. In addition, when physicians can’t perform well because of poor health, more resources are needed to support the health care system. Our health care system is in an especially challenging situation post-pandemic, with 46 per cent of physicians considering leaving practice or decreasing their hours, according to a 2021 CMA study. So, in 2022, this work has taken on even greater urgency.
What did the research find?
An environmental scan of physician health programming across Canada told us there is great appetite among medical leaders for attending to this problem—yet there is no cohesive approach in how to solve it. Our 15 recommendations are aligned with the CanMEDS Physician Competency Framework and fall under the themes of awareness and development, sustainability and support. We need to build awareness about the issue of physician wellness and help learners with their own resilience, while working at the system level to ensure workplace culture supports and protects physician health.
What do you hope the recommendations will inspire?
One key finding is that we need practical strategies to help physicians stay well while seeking opportunities to attend to underlying systemic issues that contribute to burnout. Our clinical environments and learning environments must take an active role in supporting wellness. That requires leaders who will buy in and commit resources.
Meanwhile, the Royal College needs to build protections for physician wellness into residency program accreditation. In the realm of Continuing Professional Development, I’m encouraged by what’s already happening. The Royal College has engaged a national expert in physician health to develop resources for lifelong learners, including peer support, coaching strategies and other learning assets.
What can medical educators do now to improve wellness?
Educators should start by reviewing our 15 recommendations. We’re suggesting they identify a champion in the program who can take responsibility for wellness—whether that means developing policies, building the community, or providing educational sessions.
Above all, the task force believes it would be great if health care organizations like the CMA, the Royal College, the Association of Faculties of Medicine, the College of Family Physicians of Canada, Resident Doctors of Canada, and others could partner and support each other with resources and planning so we don’t all end up independently reinventing the wheel.