Massachusetts Medical Society: Physician Health Matters - MedPEP: Physicians Empowerment Podcast Tackles Burnout

Physician Health Matters - MedPEP: Physicians Empowerment Podcast Tackles Burnout

By Deanna M. Biddy, Outreach and Funding Coordinator, Physician Health Services, Inc.

Marie Curious, MD, got down on the floor to play with her two young children and fell asleep there. Her day had been a series of challenging conversations with patients about their prescriptions, scrambling from one administrative task to another, liaising with staff, and responding to messages and phone calls. An urgent fax revealed that a long-term patient had died unexpectedly. After signing the death certificate, still shaken, she barely caught a breath before seeing her next patient. Making time for focused conversations means more “pajama time” — tending to cumbersome electronic health records after putting her children to bed.

Dr. Curious, a primary care internist, is early in her career. She already knows what it means to be overwhelmed by the demands of medicine. Unable to prioritize her family and her own needs, she has caught herself advising her daughter not to become a doctor like Mommy. Indeed, she has been contemplating a career change.

Medical Professionals Empowerment Program

But instead of quitting medical practice, Dr. Curious has augmented it — as the co-host of MedPEP, the Medical Professionals Empowerment Program, a podcast series from Physician Health Services (PHS). MedPEP is the story of Dr. Curious’s collaboration with Les Schwab, MD, an internist, physician coach, and medical leader, and their shared quest to rekindle the satisfactions that make medical practice sustainable. (Marie Curious is a pseudonym; her story is real.)

MedPEP is a result of efforts by PHS to provide a resource to assist physicians and health professionals singed by the flames of burnout. “We believe that physicians and other health professionals, individually and collectively, are mired in an occupational health crisis that is crying out for innovative solutions,” wrote Steven A. Adelman, MD, MedPEP’s founder, and Jane M. Liebschutz, MD, MPH, a MedPEP contributor, in the NEJM Catalyst blog (August 2017). “Dr. Marie Curious is emblematic of the thousands of talented and dispirited young physicians who are seeking knowledge, wisdom, and techniques for improving their lot.”

Burnout affects over 50 percent of physicians in the US, studies show. In the 20-episode series, Drs. Curious and Schwab meet with 16 experts to discuss the realities of contemporary medical practice and review a number of actionable physician empowerment strategies. These experts highlight self-care, conflict management, substance misuse, emotional intelligence, nutrition, dealing with bureaucracy and bosses, system improvement, and more. From episode to episode, Dr. Curious reports on how it’s working for her to implement these strategies in order to best care for herself and others.

Driving a Culture of Coaching

Systemic factors, including the intensifying requirements of regulation and EHR, are heavily implicated in physician burnout. MedPEP includes interventions that are applicable on multiple levels: individual, team, group, and system. “Many of the contributors discuss how organizations need to weave interventions into their daily standard work,” says Dr. Adelman, who directs PHS. “For example, when an individual doctor takes a mindfulness course, that’s an individual approach. When a clinic stops answering the phone at lunch, provides food, and offers everyone a mindfulness-based stress reduction lunch break, that’s a clinic-wide or organizational intervention.”

Introducing “a culture of coaching” into the profession and the system is a key goal. “That, in and of itself, is a systemic intervention. To the extent that coaching helps individuals become more effective, those individuals and their enhanced efficacy become more effective change agents at the level of the team, organization, and system,” says Dr. Adelman.

MedPEP episodes are being released weekly. Find them at, Google Play, and iTunes.

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