From the President

Supporting Clinician and Medical Student Well-being

Stephen C. Shannon,DO, MPH

By Stephen C. Shannon, DO, MPH
AACOM President and CEO


he holiday season is once again upon us, and for many this is a special time for celebrating, sharing, and reflecting on our good fortune in the family and friends that surround us and enrich our lives. But this is also a time to remember those less fortunate and call upon our commitment to service and promoting wellness. As you know, a primary component of that commitment is practicing empathy, particularly with those who are suffering. We are taught to do this with our patients, of course, but sometimes it is our colleagues and students who need our support and compassion.

Physician and medical student burnout has been a growing issue for some time, but until recently has been shrouded in the stigma often associated with mental health issues, thus not widely and openly discussed. Today, however, AACOM and other leaders in the medical community are joining together to make physician wellness a priority in the industry.

Burnout affects over half of all U.S. physicians, and the clinician suicide rate is twice the rate experienced by the general population. Physicians-in-training—the students we serve—are at an even greater risk. Medical training is the peak time for burnout and other challenges related to medical student well-being. However, the need for resilience and wellness training during each future physician’s education is being met with a flood of initiatives from the medical community at large.

AACOM's Commitment to Physician and Student Wellness

AACOM is strongly committed to promoting the well-being of medical students and recognizes the importance of supporting the well-being of all health professionals in developing a healthy and productive medical education environment. The Association demonstrates this commitment through its participation and leadership in a variety of ongoing programs and initiatives.

Staff leaders helped to develop a video raising awareness among students on the importance of addressing mental health concerns, and is actively engaged in the work of the Interprofessional Education Collaborative (IPEC), which seeks to promote wellness across the health professions.

In 2016, AACOM’s Council of Osteopathic Student Government Presidents (COSGP) formed a Mental Health Awareness Task Force (MHATF) to facilitate a dialogue about the many mental health concerns medical students may face, including stress, depression, burnout, and others. On February 16, 2018, the MHATF will host its third OMS Day of Wellness, a student-run event hosted at osteopathic medical college campuses across the nation promoting medical student mental health.

In collaboration with the Sidney Kimmel Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University and Leonard Calabrese, DO, a Professor of Medicine at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, AACOM is also sponsoring a nation-wide project to study medical student empathy in relation to osteopathic medical education (OME). Boosting clinical empathy may help combat physician burnout, but the role of empathy here is not currently well understood. Establishing the relationship between types of training and empathy development may provide clues on how to combat burnout and improve physician resilience.

AACOM is also a foundational member of the National Academy of Medicine (NAM)’s Action Collaborative on Clinician Well-Being and Resilience. The Action Collaborative comprises over 50 organizations with the goal of addressing the growing rates of clinician burnout. Over the course of the next two years, the Action Collaborative’s four working groups will produce and promote education materials, develop a conceptual model of the issue, and create a common set of definitions for clinician well-being. The Collaborative aims to raise awareness of clinician burnout and the need for physician well-being, determine barriers to physician well-being, and promote evidence-based solutions for reducing clinician burnout.

You can learn more about AACOM’s commitment to clinician well-being and efforts the organization is engaged in by reading our October 2017 statement on the topic.

Other Physician and Medical Student Wellness Initiatives

Many organizations are educating their members on the signs and symptoms of physician and student burnout, and what health care providers can do to take care of themselves. Organizations are publishing literature, creating webinars, hosting conference events, and even adding physician wellness as an organizational goal. Below are some notable physician wellness initiatives currently underway through which future and current clinicians can find resources to arm themselves against burnout.

AOA Physician Wellness Strategy

In 2016, the AOA House of Delegates (HOD) voted to establish a Physician Wellness Task Force, the outcome of which was the AOA Physician Wellness Strategy, which the HOD adopted this past July. The Physician Wellness Strategy is a comprehensive, three-year plan that roadmaps the creation, promotion, evaluation, and maintenance of a suite of tools and programming that promote physician wellness over the next three years. The plan takes a uniquely osteopathic approach to addressing the issue of physician well-being in that it approaches physician wellness with different methods tailored to where physicians are in their careers.

ACGME’s Back to Bedside Initiative

As physician burnout becomes increasingly common, addressing some of the core factors like dwindling patient care time and increasing administrative burden are at the heart of many wellness initiatives. The ACGME has been invested for some time in promoting well-being in the clinical learning environment—the organization holds annual symposia on the topic, the first of which resulted in the creation of the ACGME Task Force on Physician Well-Being. The launch of the ACGME’s most recent efforts, the Back to Bedside initiative, will empower residents in meeting the need for wellness training in medical education by funding innovative ideas, practices, and policies submitted by graduate medical students who understand intimately the daily stresses and challenges peers encounter as they complete their professional training. Projects that prove successful will be promoted on a national level to help students and physicians around the country improve patient care through practicing productive self-care. You can read about Back to Bedside awardees and their projects here.

American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP)’s Physician Health First Initiative

AAFP has identified physician burnout as a major challenge to the family physician profession. Recognizing the impacts of burnout on individual practitioners and the patients they care for, AAFP developed a comprehensive initiative to educate members on the signs and causes of burnout, the benefits of well-being, and effective self-care practices. The Physician Health First web portal provides clinicians with a variety of resources to help them achieve well-being. The portal includes student and resident-specific resources for combating burnout. AAFP has also established an annual conference, the Family Physician Health and Well-Being Conference, to help practitioners beat burnout.

Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC)’s Well-Being in Academic Medicine

The AAMC’s initiative on well-being in academic medicine includes a resource page for future and current physicians to learn about burnout and self-care. A leadership forum was held in 2016 to develop strategies for encouraging a culture of clinician well-being in academic medicine as well as workshops and events to develop resiliency skills and curriculum.