Physician wellness is a global issue

Robert M. Wah, MD , Former President

As physicians, we went into this profession because we prioritize the health of others above all else. But what about our own health? I know that personally, my own wellness can get lost in the shuffle of my everyday life.

There are so many facets to physician health: physical, mental, emotional, personal and professional. At the same time, physicians juggle many responsibilities and pressures—our patients, our practice, our family and friends, keeping up with important medicine news and regulations, maintaining personal interests and a social life, the constant buzz of our mobile devices. So taking time to focus on our personal health is quite a challenge.

But if we’re in poor health, how can we counsel our patients on improving their health? Poor physician health affects us all—from our peers to our trainees, patients and the health care system as a whole, not to mention our own families.


Attendees from 13 countries came to discuss the particular stressors surrounding our different career stages. From medical school through residency, practice and retirement, the things that ail us may change. Despite our different countries, backgrounds and health care systems, the thing that stood out to me was how much in common I have with physicians around the world when it comes to stress, burnout and the struggle for a work-life balance.

In my welcome remarks, I reminded the audience that as physicians, we see one especially important patient every day: It’s the face in the mirror. We have to take care of this patient so that we can be at our best to take care of all our other patients.

Over and over I’ve heard about the need for systematic and cultural changes in medicine in order to support the physical, mental and emotional health of physicians. Lucky for us, the AMA is working on systematic and cultural changes in its three strategic focus areas:

  • Through our Accelerating Change in Medical Education initiative, we’re working with 11 medical schools to implement innovative curriculum. It’s important that medical education include such skills as coping mechanisms and business management so future physicians are equipped to have more satisfaction in their professional and personal lives.
  • In our Improving Health Outcomes initiative, our goal is to reduce prediabetes and high blood pressure—which is difficult if we’re on the path to these diseases ourselves. For the sake of ourselves and our patients, we need to be good role models. We’re developing prototypes to embed screening and prevention into our daily processes. 
  • Professional satisfaction can be a huge determinant of overall wellness. The study of physician satisfaction we conducted last year with the RAND Corporation found that having an impact on the health of our patients is at the top of the list of satisfiers for physicians. Our Professional Satisfaction and Practice Sustainability initiative is working to put the joy back into medicine and help you do what you do best: care for patients.

The knowledge shared at the International Conference on Physician Health—such as how increasing numbers of young doctors are seeking help for mental health and how unfair treatment of medical students is potentially being underreported—will inform how I take care of myself, my trainees and my patients. You can view webcasts of the conference and get additional highlights and news on the BMA’s website.

The next conference, to take place in 2016, will be hosted by the AMA in the United States. Stay tuned for more information on the location and how you can participate.