Some hospitals are teaching their resident doctors how to become more resilient as they deal daily with seriously ill and dying patients and their distraught families.
Physicians at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA, in Los Angeles, last fall led pediatrics residents through four months of resilience training. The course was based on a program used for active-duty military personnel and their families by the U.S. Defense Department.
Another initiative, at Mount Sinai West in New York City, brings residents, fellows, nurses and social workers from the hospital’s cancer unit together for a monthly breakfast. The hourlong sessions typically focus on one or two difficult medical events from the past weeks, and participants voice their thoughts and feelings.
The increased focus on coping skills comes amid rising concern for the psychological health of physicians. A recent study found burnout rates among pediatrics residents at Seattle Children’s Hospital ranged from 41 to 77 percent, depending on the year of residency, says Maneesh Batra, who presented the findings at a recent meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies. Dr. Batra, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine, says previous studies at other institutions have shown similar burnout rates among residents in other medical specialties. Research shows that higher doctor-burnout rates are associated with more medical errors, impacting patients.
“I love this job but it is hard,” says Jessica Lloyd, a pediatrician at Mattel Children’s who helped start the resilience program there. “Maybe most of us don’t cry in front of patients. I certainly do. And a lot of us do cry in the conference rooms,” says the 35-year-old, who has practiced pediatrics for seven years.