Insights from a Chief Wellness Officer with Assoc Prof Bethan Richards

As a complex, high stakes, emotionally charged issue with so many siloed stakeholders, addressing the issue of burnout in the medical profession can be overwhelming. For many organisations, there has not seemed to be a clear or cost-effective forward. The evidence base regarding the negative impact of doctor burnout on patient care and the health care budget is strong. There is now growing evidence for investing in the Chief Medical Wellness Officer (CMWO) position – provided it is resourced and supported by the highest level of governance in an organisation. In this session Dr Richards will share her CMWO journey and provide some insights and tips about addressing the issue of medical officer burnout and wellbeing in a large healthcare organisation.

Leadership at every level is key to cultural change. the CMWO is a connector, structure them into the organisation so they can make change otherwise it is just a tick box. CMWO needs to be incorporated at the highest level of the organisation. What to address, what are the key levers in these big organisations? Local data is powerful, understand the magnitude, impact and drivers of burnout. Rates of burnout, depression and anxiety are currently high in junior doctors. A high proportion of doctors have low levels of self-compassion and if you feel your organisation does not value you, this adds to the high rates of burnout. Burnout has a negative impact on patient care. There is a high correlation with doctors reporting a medical error and burnout. Measurement of burnout enables you to address and authority to address. Senior executive engagement is vital to effect meaningful and sustainable change about finding the why and impact on individual / organisation / patient care. Choose language to connect and bring them on this journey. Have a business case. Have a strategic plan, think big but start small, limit scope, structure initial interviews. Leverage what is already there, seek ideas and feedback from stakeholders not just surveys. Increase the proportion of doctors who have a GP, increase sense of connection, physical wellbeing and fatigue management, facilitate flexible training and permanent positions. 

Examples: get help resources together, list of GPs, psychologists, bring in protective lunch breaks, build in protected teaching time, start a conversation about doctors’ health. Accepting you cannot keep everyone happy. Use the ‘chronic care model’ and integrate wellnes.

About Assoc Bethan Richards

Dr Bethan Richards is a Head of the Department of Rheumatology at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney; Deputy Director of the Institute for Musculoskeletal Health, and Senior Clinical Lecturer with the School of Medicine, University of Sydney. In 2019, following her return from Stanford, Bethan had the honour of being appointed as Australia’s first Chief Medical Wellness Officer as well as Sydney Local Health District’s inaugural MDOK Centre Director.

Throughout her career, Bethan has had extensive experience and a passion for designing and implementing mentoring, teaching and medical wellbeing programs. In 2017 she led a team that conceptualised and implemented the “BPT OK program” which is now being rolled out to over 3000 doctors in Sydney Local Health District as “MDOK”.

Bethann Richards

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