Patients should care about physician stress and burnout

Physicians are human, like everyone else.

And when things go wrong, like making a medical error or having a patient die, they suffer like most people would.

Pauline Chen writes about Schwartz Rounds in the New York Times, where, in a confidential environment, doctors and other health professionals can discuss challenging cases.

As Dr. Chen writes, “the discussions that ensue are often emotional. But instead of focusing on blame, discussion leaders work to transform these stressful moments into an opportunity for clinicians from all disciplines to encourage and support one another.”

I applaud institutions that have these rounds, as it both acknowledges and supports the stress physicians face while practicing medicine.

Not all patients, however, are sympathetic to the idea. Some are downright hostile. Consider some of the ensuing comments:

I wouldn’t be sobbing if I received your paycheck. Almost every physician I have encountered thinks they are God and when they realize that they are not- like your friend realized- they quickly become exasperated and despondent. Why not a course in humility and a pay cut to make healthcare affordable and physicians less arrogant.

Or this:

Let them sit and talk with each other about how stressed they all are on their lunch hours. Do not add this cost (what cost? doctors hourly rates? room rent in one’s own edifice? a coffee machine?) to patient billings.

I understand there will always be a subset of the population who will “doctor bash” no matter what the issue or argument is. Or say that physician salaries should make doctors immune to emotional stress.

Some, in fact, may not even care about doctors burning out.

Well, they should.

Studies have shown that doctors who are stressed and burnt out make more medical errors, both in surgery and internal medicine. And that doctors who make a mistake, or are sued, are more prone to suicide and depression.

Whether patients like it or not, the impact of physician stress affects them.

Doctors and health professionals deserve emotional support while practicing medicine. I applaud the Dr. Chen and the New York Times for publicizing Schwartz Rounds.

If you aren’t sympathetic to the mental welfare of doctors, ask yourself this.  When you’re sick in the hospital, would you want a physician who’s emotionally broken?

 is an internal medicine physician and on the Board of Contributors at USA Today


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