Pediatric Reflections: Reconnecting with Colleagues is One Way to Stem Burnout

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Children's Doctor

Khoi Dang Khoi Dang, MD, is a pediatrician in CHOP’s South Philadelphia Primary Care practice and Well-being Group Lead for the CHOP Primary Care Network.

The funny thing about writing this piece on burnout is that just recently, I was feeling, well, burnt out. Feeling pressure to complete documentation, messages, and work to care for patients in ways that felt successful and responsible. Oh, and don’t forget personal and familial duties. Overwhelmed. Have you been there?

Burnout can seem so daunting given scientific literature has shown the negative consequences of physician burnout on employee health, patient safety, resource utilization, and systemic quality of care. However, it’s been proven worthwhile across settings to act for the health of our colleagues, systems, and, ultimately, patients.

Where to start in Primary Care? Experts suggest leaning on each other, gathering ideas on what needs fixing, spreading successes, and reconnecting to the colleagues, patients, and sense of mission that led us to Pediatrics in the first place.

Easy? No.

Necessary and consequential? Absolutely.

Individually, some advocate mindfulness, meditation, exercise, and other self-care tools. These are clearly NOT a panacea, as systemic issues cannot be fixed individually. Yet, they might offer what’s needed at times—space and understanding that to help others I need to help myself first.

As a team, some suggest we have lost touch with each other—hard-working, altruistic, and motivated healers whose goal is better health for children, their families, and communities. How do we reconnect, draw inspiration from each other, and provide comfort for the small and big traumas of our task? One suggestion advocates for improving team communication to discuss challenges in an all-learn, all-teach manner. Another idea, my favorite, was found to reduce burnout in a controlled trial at the Mayo Clinic by supporting physicians gathering for regular communal meals to connect and share their stories and truths together. Reducing isolation and reinforcing relationships may help provide a bulwark against burnout.

Systemically, healthcare is imperfect. It will evolve, but not overnight. Are we doing everything we can to help those at the sharpest end of care perform their roles on the team? Locally and nationally, relationships are developing, resources are mobilizing, and work is starting to reimagine care delivery models that are more efficient and effective. Change will be slower than we’d like, but the most important ingredient is all of us listening, sharing, and learning together.

The goal? Reducing cognitive, emotional, and physical exhaustion and reconnecting to the joy in our collective efforts as healers. Across the country, thousands like you are mobilizing to transform the healthcare system and improve the well-being of professionals who have sacrificed much to raise the health of others.

Will you join us? Email us with your thoughts and ideas.

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