‘Happier doctors mean happier patients.’
Do you agree with that statement? I’m curious. A quote said to me recently by a fellow Irish doctor and friend of mine.
‘For a so-called caring profession, we are shockingly bad at caring for ourselves.’
Another quote – this one from a fellow doctor in Ireland. Do you agree with this?
‘Medicine is a vocation, but it should not come at the expense of your own health.’
My third, and final quote I will put to you readers, and again, this was said by a fellow doctor in Ireland.
Why all the quotes, I hear you say. Well, I’ll tell you. If you follow me on Instagram, Twitter and/or Facebook, you will have seen that over the last two weeks of June, I organised (with the help of some fantastic doctor colleagues at junior and senior level) a series of wellness-oriented events at my hospital workplace. Have you ever been to a ‘workplace wellness‘ event? Your answer (which I hope, in this day and age, is yes) will depend on your profession, where you work, your own social circumstances, etc. But regardless, it’s true to say that the wellness ‘trend’ that has seen a rapid growth over the past few years has made it’s way into the workplace. This is mostly true at corporate level, but not limited to this area entirely, in fairness.
However, I’ve being seeing a gap in events designed to promote the well-being of doctors specifically for quite some time now. One can argue that the responsibility for one’s own self-care, health and well-being is largely personal in nature, but I don’t agree entirely with that. As doctors, the nature of our profession is such that often, our self-care and needs come second to that of our patients. Those crazy nights on call, where the healthy lunch you made to bring to work is replaced by a coffee and a protein bar, just simply because it’s too busy to grab twenty minutes to eat a proper meal. When you plan a dinner to meet an old friend, but a patient gets unwell at 5pm, or there’s a late evening ward round, and you have to cancel last minute. Or planning to hit the gym after work, but after spending a day running around the wards, feeling like doing nothing of the sort. These things happen in our job, and it’s important to remember too that they don’t happen every single day. My point is that while each individual has a personal responsibility for their own healthy habits, I believe that our workplace should have a responsibility to make it a priority too, because as doctors, the choice to ‘be well’ isn’t always ours to make.
There is a saying that goes ‘Be the change you want to see.’ So I decided to embrace that challenge, and when the suggestion was made to me by a colleague, I set about organising a series of wellness-oriented events (with the help of three epic SHO colleagues of mine, a totally fantastic on-the-ball registrar advising me on the technical side of things, and two wonderfully supportive consultants, all of whom I can’t thank enough) over two weeks in June. We called the initiative ‘Are Ya Well?’, and designed it to promote and prioritise our well-being as clinicians – because, we felt, happier doctors mean happier patients. I don’t think any of you could disagree with that. The vibes you put out to the world affect those you receive in return, and that’s true of any interaction really, be it between you and your doctor or you and your family or friends.
We organised six events in total, and there was such interest in and excitement about our programme that I was asked to write an article for the hospital magazine (July edition), which I want to share with you here, below. Many of you expressed interest in our events by emailing me or contacting me via social media, and I figured a blog post would be a great way to tell you all about our events. In my article below, I share three things:
- The ‘Why’ – Why I decided to be the change I wanted to see
- The ‘What’ – What we organised and how we structured our events
- The ‘Well, What Did You Think?’ – Results of the feedback survey we carried out of those junior doctors who attended our events
I hope you enjoy the read below.
The National Study of Well-Being of Hospital Doctors in Ireland, published in April 2017 by the Royal College of Physicians Ireland, was a survey completed by over 1700 Irish doctors, exploring their lifestyle behaviours, personal well-being and workplace well-being. It was carried out to fill a perceived gap in the Irish literature in the era of a growing interest in doctor well-being. The findings of this study were of significant concern, as well as a valuable insight into the physical and mental health of our physicians. Notably, 1 in 3 doctors suffered burnout, and only 1 in 2 reported normal psychological well-being. 80% reported low levels of physical activity. Only one fifth reported having enough time for family or personal life as a result of work commitments. Importantly, in general, personal well-being was lower and work stress levels higher for trainees than consultants. Given these shocking statistics, the report recommended that the welfare of staff in our health services must be a priority for hospital management, policy makers and the health service, in addition to the medical training bodies themselves.
A particularly memorable quote from a participating doctor was ‘For a so-called caring profession, we are shockingly bad at caring for ourselves.’ Another was ‘Medicine is a vocation, but it should not come at the expense of your own health.’ As a second year senior house officer coming to the end of a third year working in acute hospital medicine, I couldn’t agree more, and so I decided that this had to change. The concept of wellness, one which has become increasingly popular and trendy in recent years, has many similar definitions, but broadly speaking is felt to be ‘a state of good health.’ The World Health Organisation defines health itself as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’ Responsibility for keeping the population ‘well’ or ‘in good health’ is perceived to lie, to an extent, with our profession – particularly in the acute hospital setting. We often work long hours in busy, stressful situations much of the time, and no two days are ever the same. There is an unpredictable element to our work, particularly in our early trainee years, and as a result, our well-being as both doctors and human beings often comes second to our patients’ needs. So who is responsible for keeping doctors ‘well’? I felt there two answers to this question – ourselves (i.e. personal responsibility, where feasible), and equally our employers and trainers (i.e. the hospitals, the medical training bodies and the health service).
Led by myself, a small group of non-consultant hospital doctors (i.e. NCHDs – Ciara, Andrew and Aileen, you know who you are, you legends!) organised a two week series of wellness-oriented events at St. James’s Hospital, for NCHDs to attend and participate in. The events were designed to promote key pillars of health among doctors – nutrition, physical activity, and stress management using mindfulness and meditation. In total, there were six events – three talks delivered by consultants with special interests in mindfulness and mediation, two evening yoga classes and a nutrition-focused social evening supported by Irish health food brands (including Glenisk, Alpro, Homespun Foods, Bella Bites, Kindsnacks Ireland, Bowls Healthy Eating, Near To Nature and Sarah’s Raw Bites). The events were attended predominantly by interns and senior house officers, in addition to some registrars and consultants. I am extremely grateful to the above named brands for their incredibly generous support of our initiative!
The ‘Well, What Did You Think?’
We carried out a feedback survey of the doctors in attendance over three separate events (one survey each). In total, 35 doctors completed the feedback questionnaire. A positive finding was that 80% of NCHDs reported they currently practise lifestyle habits to improve their well-being, in the areas of regular exercise, good nutrition and/or mindfulness. Interestingly, 100% of respondents reported they did not feel that their hospital workplace prioritised their well-being. 99% felt that employers should promote the well-being of employees. Importantly, 100% felt they perform better at work when they regularly practise habits or attend events to improve their well-being. Finally, 100% of doctors reported a perceived improvement in their overall sense of well-being as a result of attendance at one or more of our events in the two week series.
We also included three open answer feedback questions in our survey, to ascertain what aspects of events NCHDs felt were done well, what improvements they would like to see for future similar events, and finally to ask for any other comments or relevant suggestions they might have. Notably, comments were entirely positive in nature, and NCHDs were grateful and appreciative of the initiative. They felt the events were well-organised and promoted, and importantly, much needed. More events of a similar nature were requested, at an increased frequency during the working week and clinical year.
I would like to take a moment here to especially thank Dr. Concept Merry, as well as Dr. Una Kennedy for their help and support of our initiative, as well as Dr. Lucy Chapman for assisting us with the technical aspects of scheduling the events.
This initiative was designed to promote and prioritise our well-being as clinicians – because happier doctors mean happier patients. We hope that these events will set a template for future similar events, both at our hospital and elsewhere.
I also want to say a MASSIVE thank you to the wonderful brands who happily and generously got involved with our event, sending us delicious packages of healthy food and goodies for us to try. I am honoured to have had the following brands involved (and I’ve included some photos of their healthy creations and products below!):
Thank you all for reading. I would love to know any feedback from YOU guys, whether you work in healthcare or not. Does your workplace prioritise your well-being? If you do work in healthcare, I would love to know if you have seen or taken part in wellness oriented events organised at your workplace, be it a hospital or elsewhere. Many people have said to me they would love our initiative to set a template for future events of a similar nature, both at my hospital and others, so let me know if you’re Ireland-based and keen on this too! As always, leave a comment here, send me an email, or a direct message or comment on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook – I’m @theirishbalance, you guys know by now!
Ciara 🙂 x