'You can be part of the solution': A chief wellness officer's message to fed up physicians

Anjalee Galion, MD, chief wellness officer at Children's Hospital of Orange County (CHOC), wants physicians attempting to grapple with the field of medicine's challenges to know that they are not alone.

A survey by the Physicians' Foundation found that only 40% of physicians would recommend a career in medicine. Further, the shortage of physicians in the U.S. could reach 124,000 by 2034, according to Physicians Thrive's 2023 compensation report.

Dr. Galion joined Becker's to share her advice to those physicians who no longer find joy in the practice of medicine. 

Question: What would you say to the growing number of physicians who are feeling burned out, dissatisfied with their career, and even thinking about leaving medicine?

Dr. Anjalee Galion: I am really fortunate to do a lot of work in organized medicine through the California Medical Association and the American Medical Association, and we are stronger together. Everyone is better together.

The first thing is to feel validated. You are absolutely going through something extremely significant, and we now have the data to validate that this is not just a "you" issue. This is a widespread issue of the system. 

If you consider the triad of wellness in terms of a culture of wellness, practice efficiency and personal resilience, many times there is a tendency to focus on being more resilient. If you did yoga or if you were more mindful, you wouldn't feel this way. However, physicians are already some of the most resilient people that exist. Implying they aren't doing enough is not where you get the biggest return on investment for these types of interventions, and so this also changes the narrative that it's not your fault for feeling this way. There are real systemwide pressures being felt across the nation that are part of why you feel this way. I think that's a really helpful concept, that it's not your fault, and you don't need to do yoga to make this feel better. You are part of the system, and you can also be part of the solution. You can help [leaders] identify the problems in the system that we can address to make it better.T hat is where people not only have power, but they start to regain control of seeing their own envisioned future.

It's no different than how we approach other global issues like mental health. It doesn't help someone who is going through anxiety or depression to say "you need to feel better," or "if you would just do this, it would be better." It's important to identify what is going on. Is there a chemical issue? What are the social systems? What is your support network, and what else is going on in your ecosystem that is contributing to your current situation? And most importantly, you are not alone. This is a widespread issue, and we want to be part of the solution, where we help you get better — together.

I love this idea that we're having the conversations. The American Medical Association has a playbook on the importance of having a chief wellness officer; what they do and how they impact the system. What's really beautiful about it is that healthy doctors provide better care. We are better for our patients. We provide safer, better quality care. When you are on a plane, you have to put on your own mask before you put on your kid's mask. Airlines tell you that — but we don't think about it in healthcare. 

I'm really proud of our country and even having the conversation, because I don't think that that is necessarily the case everywhere. We're thinking about how to make it better, and we're thinking about everything together. I'm not saying it's a perfect network, but it's not just happening in isolation. We have multiple systems in which there really is strength and proof that we're better together. You're not alone, and I want you to know that we got this.

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