Canadian Medical Association

Ten tips on how to start or lead physician wellness initiatives in your workplace

In recent years, more health care settings have been implementing physician wellness initiatives — especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet despite this increased interest, no Canadian standards or roadmaps have been produced to help physicians or administrators develop successful physician wellness initiatives.

Have you been asked to start or lead a physician wellness initiative in your workplace?

The following tips are based on The Ottawa Hospital’s (TOH) 10-year journey toward physician wellness — and can help you get off to a good start. 

  1. Get leadership support. Buy-in from the top sends the message that physician wellness is important. It can also lead to financial support or dedicated time allocated for your position, a budget and access to administrative support. Leadership endorsement and ongoing support are critical to the success of your initiative. When making the case for a wellness initiative to your leadership, you’ll want to quickly and concisely present its value proposition using an “elevator speech” like the one below:

    Physician wellness is a shared responsibility between individual physicians, the health care system and the professional culture. The last 20 years of research have shown a link between physician burnout, decreased patient outcomes and satisfaction, and increased risk of medical errors. We can therefore consider it to be an issue of quality and safety. The high cost of decreased productivity, high turnover and early retirement also makes this a health systems economic issue.”
  2. Establish an appropriate reporting structure. Some wellness leaders report to medical affairs, the chief of staff or the president of the medical staff. Having an official structure ensures access to leadership support and accountability for the role. 
  3. Get involved. To effect change, you have to be at the table. Attend senior leadership committee meetings whenever possible (e.g., medical affairs committee) and be a voice for physician wellness, ensuring that it’s taken into account in operational decisions. You can also use these opportunities to promote concepts such as the Quadruple Aim or other wellness policies. 
  4. Create a physician wellness committee. Get support from a coalition of the willing, ideally with broad representation from different divisions/departments, residents and diversity groups. If your goal is to create alignment with wellness initiatives across the entire organization, you can also include members from psychology, ethics, occupational health and wellness, communications, HR, IT, security, education, and medical affairs. Set clear terms of reference to guide your committee’s efforts.
  5. Establish physician wellness priorities. To set the right priorities, you have to understand the needs of your front-line physicians, as local priorities are often unique. Conduct surveys or focus groups and use the results to create a list of priorities. At TOH, some of the priorities included an on-site family physician and improved access to healthy food, the gym and childcare. 
  6. Work with your communications department. The communications department can ensure resources, articles, tips sheets and wellness activities are easily accessible when you need them. They can also help produce resources such as online newsletters, monthly journals, a wellness site on the intranet, videos, social media content, podcasts and media interviews.
  7. Offer support for challenging/adverse events. This is a common request from physicians and can be incorporated into your critical incident review process. It can also be offered through a peer support initiative (including peer support training and implementation). 
  8. Offer resiliency or wellness programming. Choose concepts or models that are evidence-based or recommended by wellness experts. TOH based many of its initiatives on the Canadian Armed Forces’ Road to Mental Readiness Program (R2MR) as well as work from Daniel Siegal and sports psychology.
  9. Track wellness and other outcomes. There are many wellness measures you can track, so select the ones that meet your needs. In 2019, TOH implemented a five-minute wellness survey that was sent out randomly every two months throughout the year. The results provided feedback about staff experiences over time and impacts on their health and well-being. The results informed the development of resources and other offerings to staff. 
  10. Celebrate successes together. Highlighting and acknowledging individuals in the organization who demonstrated wellness and resiliency can be very inspiring and help with role modelling.   

Join the movement

If you need advice or support, there is a growing community of physician wellness advocates, leaders and experts you can reach out to. You can also talk to colleagues and seek out conferences and other learning opportunities. Individually and collectively, we can change the culture and create healthier work and training environments with space for candid conversations about our health and wellness.

Authors: Dr. Caroline Gérin-Lajoie, Drs. Kerri Ritchie, C.Psych. & Bryce Mulligan, C.Psych, Rob Hill, MA, Psychology; Katharine Chamberlain, Health and Wellness Coordinator, Occupational Health and Wellness; Michaela Schreiter, Media Relations Officer, Kate Eggins, Director, Communications; Dr. Virginia Roth, Chief of Staff, The Ottawa Hospital. 


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