Healing the healers: Hospital helps doctors care for each other
Special to The Union
Ask any doctor and they will likely talk about medicine as a calling and describe how gratifying it is to partner with patients to improve their quality of life. They may describe how caring for the health and well-being of your friends and neighbors is one of the great honors of being a physician.
What they may not tell you is how challenging, stressful and emotional the job can be. Long hours, demanding pace, high pressure and intense emotions… All of these can describe a typical workday.
These daily stresses have contributed to a major increase in physician burnout across the country. The American Medical Association shared in February that a recent study found 44 percent of US physicians exhibited at least one symptom of burnout in 2017. While that number is an improvement over similar studies in 2014 and 2011, the AMA says it is still cause for concern.
Burned out doctors are more likely to experience depression, exhaustion and dissatisfaction. They are also more likely to quit, which reduces patients’ access to care. In a community like Grass Valley, where the demand for physicians is already high, the need to retain physicians is great.
For leadership at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, the health and well-being of all staff and physicians is a top priority. Part of the hospital’s commitment to that can be seen in the SNMH Physician Wellness Committee.
“The Physician Wellness Committee has been part of the Medical Staff for many years,” explains Dr. John Lace, Pulmonary Disease specialist and Chairman of the Physician Wellness Committee. “It has the function of identifying and managing matters of individual physician health, and aiding physicians in retaining or regaining optimal professional functions, consistent with protection of patients and the provision of quality patient care.”
Dr. Lace says that the committee is just one way that SNMH administration provides to support to physicians.
“The hospital creates an environment that allows us to provide the best patient care possible,” says Dr. Lace. “I have had experience with burnout, and also personal issues with my own health when I was younger, and have benefited from help I have received. There is an old quote that ‘a doctor who treats herself or himself has a fool for a patient.’ In traditional medical training, we are socialized to place our own health needs subordinate to those around us, and I have been passionate about encouraging my colleagues to practice self-care.”
One coping tool that Dr. Lace uses and encourages other physicians to employ as well is the pursuit of interests and hobbies outside of medicine.
Dr. Lace moonlights as a semiprofessional musician, playing with local jazz and rock bands, and also enjoys nature photography and natural history.
“When I am performing, or hiking in the field looking for photo subjects, I am completely in the present moment,” says Dr. Lace. “Learning about my other pursuits uses different parts of my brain. Since I work hard, and enjoy my hobbies, it is important for me to time manage and set priorities. And often the priority is for me to care for myself.”
Much of the medical staff at SNMH have taken this advice to heart, too. Among the physicians there are basketball players, pickleball fans, mountain bikers, runners, auto racers – just to name a few.
“I am extremely proud of my colleagues,” says Dr. Lace. “We are here in Grass Valley because we love the area. Most of us could have a higher income in the big city but we are here because we like the ambiance of small town life. We don’t mind seeing our patients at the farmer’s market or at a concert or a movie. We are an eclectic, creative group.”
For Dr. Lace, it is heartening to see colleagues caring for themselves, so they can continue to care for the community.
“Practicing medicine is a spiritual calling for me,” he says. “I am privileged to fulfill the role I have in our community. Seeing people get better, seeing people reconcile with each other when one’s life draws near to an end. Having the opportunity to explain to people their health/disease process, and promoting healing attitudes. It gives a deeper understanding of human nature.”
An understanding that has helped Dr. Lace to learn and share the truth that everyone needs healing at some point – even the healers themselves.
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Nevada County got some good news on Wednesday.