Physician Wellbeing

This page offers resources for physicians of all ages and career stages to help you find joy and meaning in your work. Below, find information on the meaning of joy in medical practice, the immediate crisis of physician burnout, tools for transforming your practice into a less stressful work environment, strategies to embrace meaning and awareness in your own life, and more.

Mental Health of Healthcare Workers Podcast 

In this podcast, The Happiness Lab host, Dr. Laurie Santos of Yale, talks to doctors on how they cope with isolation and lack of self-compassion. They explore doctor’s mental space as they explore advocacy in crisis, meditation, courage and more. See how here.


Headspace is an app that teaches you how to meditate in time of need.

Coping with the Emotional Impact of Adverse Patient Outcomes
Watch on YouTube

Speaker Suggested Resources:

Coping with Adverse Patient Outcomes (WellMD Stanford Medicine, March 2011)
Managing After Bad Outcomes (Susan M. Retzack, MD, Milwaukee, WI)
Coping with Stress After an Adverse Patient Outcome (MedProGroup)
Photographer Captures Moment ER Doctor Steps Outside after Losing a 19-Year-Old Patient
Peer Support for Caregivers in Distress
Sidney Dekker on The Second Victim
TRUST: The 5 Rights of the Second Victim

Exploring Tools and Resources for Overcoming Burnout
Watch on YouTube

Speaker Suggested Resources:

A Team-Based Care Model That Improves Job Satisfaction (Family Practice Management, March-April 2018)
IHI Framework for Improving Joy in Work (Institute for Healthcare Improvement)
Physician Health First Wellness Planner (American Academy of Family Physicians)
Clinician Well-Being Knowledge Hub (National Academy of Medicine)
Steps Forward (American Medical Association)
WellMD (Stanford Medicine)

Thanks to Ohio AFP for sharing these resources through a grant from AAFP – Foundation.

Employed physicians face unique stresses in practice as they often lack autonomy and influence over business decisions. Here are four ways to protect your wellbeing.

The AAFP introduced Physician Health First, the first-ever comprehensive initiative devoted to improving physician well-being. As part of the initiative, the AAFP launched an interactive web portal with a wealth of wellbeing resources for members.

We all intuitively know what burnout looks like, but the progression of the main symptoms- exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy - may not be the same for everyone. Learn about the early warning signs and how to make a change before it gets too far.

Burnout may be most noticeable in physicians, but it starts in medical school and residency. Here’s what we can do about it.

Finding Joy In Practice

Regaining joy in practice is crucial, but not a simple task. Preventing burnout starts with the individual physician and the attitudes that they bring to their practice and daily life. Many physicians have found that focusing on meaning, mindfulness, and resilience skills greatly help as they seek joy in their work.

Check out a few tools below

How to switch from burnout to resilience.

A perspective on how family physicians can find meaning in their work and rediscover the joy in their practice.

How mindfulness saved one oncologist’s practice and transformed his perspective on patient care. Includes a short, simple exercise for you to start trying mindfulness as well.

Helpful tips on reevaluating negative thought patterns and making a plan for preventing burnout.

The AMA has developed a series of modules focusing on wellness, resiliency, and preventing burnout, as well as other useful topics.

System changes

While physicians can certainly make changes in their own lives to create balance and joy, the problem of burnout won’t disappear unless employers and medical educators also embrace a physician wellness as a priority. Here’s what a few employers, residency programs, and medical schools are doing to combat burnout in the workplace and help train happier doctors.

Stanford’s Balance in Life program focuses on the professional, physical, psychological, and social health of residents through mentorship and a variety of creative interventions.

Residents understand the problem of burnout and have many ideas, some large and some easy to implement, on how to create a healthier, more successful educational experience. Here are some of their ideas.

Resources for Students and Residents

“Meet the exigencies of practice with firmness and courage, without, at the same time, hardening ‘the human heart by which we live.’”

William Osler MD,

Medical students have always had to weigh the disheartening rigors of clinical training with the idealism that drive them to medicine originally. Fellow students and residents offer advice on surviving the challenges of medical education with your sense of humanism and compassion unscathed.

One doctor’s excellent perspective on maintaining humanism, purpose, and imagination throughout a medical career.

Students risk losing the humanistic values that drew them to medicine when they encounter the “hidden curriculum” of medical education that emphasizes detachment and competence over compassion. Learn how this might be at play in your education, and how to immunize yourself from its effects.

A resident’s thoughtful reflection on burnout in medical school and how positive physician leadership made the difference.

Medical students have a bad habit of mentally living in the future and planning for the next step at the expense of being aware of the present. Here’s a medical student perspective on how mindfulness can make you a better doctor and help you live a happier life.

Writing and reflection help medical students make sense of their new and often stressful experiences in a healthy, positive way.

How active self-awareness, literature, and a dedication to self-care helped a doctor retain and cultivate his humanity throughout medical training.

Resources for New Physicians

Physicians just starting their careers face significant changes to their work and home life. With the intense demands of finding a job and getting established in your practice, it’s easy to become stressed, discouraged, and burned out.

Here are some resources on how to start your career on the right foot and set yourself up for a meaningful, fulfilling career and life.

The term “work-life balance” is often thrown around as something to strive for, but doesn’t always describe reality. Here’s why you might want to think of a “work-life dynamic equilibrium” instead.

AAFP resources on creating a balance between work and home during the busy beginning of your career.

Being a physician in a rural environment comes with its own set of challenges. Here’s stories of how rural female doctors build successful, fulfilling practices and also engage with family and other commitments.

AAFP resources on how new physicians can avoid burnout as they start their careers and establish meaningful, joyful careers for the long term.

Resources for Mid-Career and Older Physicians

Mid-career physicians often experience high levels of stress and burnout, while older physicians appear to be more resilient to the effects of burnout. These doctors attribute their happiness to greater life experience and clinical wisdom that helps them find meaning and joy in their work. 

Source: Secrets to psychological success: why older doctors might have lower psychological distress and burnout than younger doctors. Peisah C, Latif E, Wilhelm K, Williams B. Aging Ment Health. 2009 Mar;13(2):300-7.

Below, successful physicians share stories of how they found happiness throughout their careers.

Burnout expert Dr. Dike Drummond has gone from a burned-out physician to a wellness coach helping other doctors recover from burnout and find happiness in their careers. For practical tips, see his articles, which were recently featured in Family Practice Management.

The majority of Massachusetts physicians are employed by groups of 50 or more, and this employment situation brings unique challenges for physicians. This is how employed physicians can create balance and avoid burnout.

How successful physicians stay human and find meaning in their work despite the challenges of the job.

Family, friends, humor, hobbies, and more. Physician leaders share their strategies for avoiding burnout and staying happy in their jobs.

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