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Physicians should eat more ice cream and have more sex (USA)

November 1, 2012

An online article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, dated October 26, 2012 lightheartedly comments that physicians need to take these, and other positive measures, to feel happier in their work and personal lives. The article is based on a presentation made by Dr. Shanafelt, Director of the Mayo Clinic Department of Medicine Program on Physician Well-Being at the Conference on Physician Health in Montreal, Quebec.

In spite of the fact that physicians are highly educated, well employed, well compensated, and engaged in meaningful work, many report that they are experiencing emotional distress from working too many hours at a chaotic pace and under extreme pressures of time. In fact, physician rate of suicide is higher than any other group of university graduates and health care professionals. Physicians working in remote areas are particularly vulnerable to these pressures, and feel overwhelmed with the responsibilities of practice due to the isolation and burden.

In addition to the external factors, many physicians also have what is dubbed as the “physician personality”: they are often perfectionists, hard workers, highly demanding of themselves, have difficulties relaxing and taking time for themselves, and carry an exaggerated sense of responsibility for their patients. They may also feel that personal wellness is a goal worth pursuing – but not until there is time – perhaps at retirement, but not before.

According to Dr. Shanafelt, given enough of these factors over a prolonged period of time, it is little wonder that many physicians experience burnout that may even lead to a decline in job performance.

Thus it is important for individual physicians to recognize the need for a balanced work and personal lifestyle, self-reflection on the important things in life, pursuit of pleasurable and meaningful activities (notwithstanding sex and ice cream), and identification of the stressors in their practice. Organizations also have a responsibility to ensure that there are healthy work policies in place, that workload is balanced and that they encourage autonomy and work-life integration.

You can read the online article, “The Physician personality” and other factors in physician health on the CMAJ website.

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