Dr. John Becher, DO '70, has co-authored a new paper dealing with physician burnout. The paper focuses on various areas including depression and suicide among doctors.
One of the basic tenets of osteopathic medicine is to consider the patient as a whole, comprising mind, body and spirit. A new paper published in NAM Perspectives and authored by several leaders in the field of osteopathic medicine—including John Becher, DO ’70, chair, emergency medicine—say that perspective should also be applied to physician wellness.
“We want students and young physicians to look in the mirror and see themselves as they see their patients,” said Dr. Becher, who is a former president of the American Osteopathic Association (AOA).
As physicians face increasing pressures such as education debt, increased patient and administrative workloads, more and more complex medical knowledge, and patient self-diagnoses—along with many of the other stressors faced outside of their job—the rates of physician burnout, depression and suicide ideation have increased. In fact, roughly 400 physicians commit suicide each year.
“In doing research for this paper, it was particularly shocking to me to see the degree of burnout that occurs among students before they even have the experience of seeing patients,” said Dr. Becher, adding that within his particular specialty of emergency medicine, rates of physician burnout were highest. “It’s physically and emotionally stressful,” he explains. “It can impact your personal life, your hobbies and the time you spend with your family.”
The authors of the paper suggest that key stakeholders—including medical schools, training programs, employers, families, and society at large—play a role in facilitating physician wellness by considering all of those factors in a holistic fashion, the same way osteopathic medicine physicians are trained to understand their patients.
Dr. Becher says that he and fellow authors found that the physicians who were least likely to experience burnout generally had more well-rounded lives. “They had other factors to essentially take their mind off of medicine,” he said. “The more you don’t do outside of medicine, the worse it can be.”
The authors propose the AOA use the information presented in the paper to develop programs that address the issue of depression and burnout among physicians.
“This is a public health problem, in that it affects the ability of doctors to provide
the best care to their patients,” said Dr. Becher.
Founded in 1899, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine has trained thousands of highly competent, caring physicians, health practitioners and behavioral scientists who practice a “whole person” approach to care—treating people, not just symptoms. PCOM offers doctorate degrees in educational psychology, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy and psychology, and graduate degrees in aging and long-term care administration, biomedical sciences, forensic medicine, mental health counseling, organizational development and leadership, physician assistant studies and school psychology. Our students learn the importance of health promotion, research, education and service to the community. Through its community-based Healthcare Centers, PCOM provides care to medically underserved populations in inner-city and rural locations. For more information, visit pcom.edu.
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