The District IX Committee on Physician Work-Life Balance is composed of 12 members and is co-chaired by Robert J. Wallace, MD, and me.
The committee’s mission is to further ACOG’s goal of providing quality care to patients by actively promoting physician wellness in mind, body, and spirit, realizing that a healthy and happy physician serves as a role model and provides higher quality care to patients.
Past areas of focus have been on stress management, nutritional awareness and healthy eating, promotion of physical activity, and coping with litigation concerns. Currently, our area of focus is on the promotion of physician mindfulness to reduce stress and burnout and to enhance patient safety.
Mindfulness is the self-regulation of attention using curiosity, openness, and acceptance. It has been shown to improve working memory, cognitive flexibility, and focus, as well as diminish emotional reactivity. Mindfulness is the opposite of multitasking, which is often associated with medical errors.
The authors of a recent Journal of the American Medical Association article found diagnostic errors to be a direct result of knee-jerk responses and failures to recognize situations for what they truly are. In other words, cognitive bias leads to diagnostic error. The authors recommend the practice of mindfulness to reduce these types of errors and improve physician well-being.
Some experts believe that physician wellness should be included as a quality indicator. Research has shown that physicians who participated in an intensive mindfulness program demonstrated improvement in well-being and capacity for patient-centered care. According to an anonymous American College of Surgeons survey published in 2010, the presence of burnout (ie, emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and diminished sense of personal accomplishment) is associated with increased surgical errors regardless of personal or professional circumstances.
In a recent Medscape survey, more female physicians reported burnout (45%) than male physicians (37%). The survey also found the rate of burnout to be highest among those in midlife (ages 46 to 55) and that ob-gyns ranked fourth highest in burnout of the 24 medical specialties surveyed.
Our committee believes that if physicians are given tools to understand, access, and practice mindfulness, then patient safety and physician wellness will be markedly improved. To further this goal, we have already scheduled Shauna L. Shapiro, PhD, associate professor of counseling psychology at Santa Clara University and an internationally recognized expert in mindfulness, to speak at the 2014 Annual District Meeting in Napa, CA.
In the meantime, visit the District IX Committee on Physician Work-Life Balance for tips and updates on committee activities. I’ll also be leading sunrise yoga classes at the 2013 ADM in Maui. I hope to see you there!