University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD’s, spring graduation speech briefly acknowledged the wisdom and skills medical students gained. It made mention of the long-term achievements that await.
But the final message to students was one about the importance of guarding their own well-being. Not forgetting the stamina, perseverance and tenacity that propelled them through the tough times on their path to graduation day. Dr. Gold told the future physicians just how essential those resiliency skills would be in their careers, as each of them will confront failure and times of doubt at some point.
“We cannot give full dedication to healing as we have sworn an oath to do if we ourselves are not truly resilient, if we are hurting, if we no longer have the very best of ourselves to give to others,” Dr. Gold told the newest MDs. “We have recognized this here at UNMC. This is why we have made mental health wellness and stress management one of our greatest emphases, a set of foundational principles.”
Sending UNMC graduates off with a reminder that their own mental health is paramount is just one way physician wellness is an increasing part of the culture at UNMC. It’s an example of how UNMC leaders are toppling the stigma and barriers that have for so long stopped physicians from seeking help when they need it most.
The journey to change the status quo started about five years ago when news of internal medicine trainees’ suicides jolted Dr. Gold, a past chair of the AMA’s Council on Medical Education.
He was part of the conversations taking place at the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) and the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) about the learning environment where future physicians are trained.
He had read study after study coming out about physician burnout. He had personally seen the administrative burdens that electronic health records were putting on practicing physicians. And he had seen the stress that was added to the profession as the nation’s health care payment system was in flux while the Affordable Care Act went into effect.
Dr. Gold—at the helm of seven colleges, overseeing staff and faculty of about 5,000 and the school’s 3,800 students, as well as Nebraska Medicine’s more than 6,500 employees—knew something needed to change at the organizational level. This wasn’t about just adding a stress-management class or bringing in a speaker to talk about taking care of yourself. This was about changing the culture for students, physicians in-training, practicing physicians and staff. It was about finding better ways for physicians and other health care professionals to function in their day-to-day responsibilities. It was about providing physicians with the resources they need.
Read this story in its entirety as featured in the latest issue of AMA Moving Medicine.