WVU medical students hear from distinguished speaker on professional wellness

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Ways to prevent professional burnout and effective wellness strategies in the medical workforce were the topics of discussion Thursday afternoon at the WVU Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center Charleston Campus.

The Charleston Division of the WVU School of Medicine helped host the West Virginia Gold Humanism and Women in Medicine Summit that featured distinguished guests.

The keynote for the event was nationally recognized speaker and author Dr. Catherine Pipas from Dartmouth College Geisel School of Medicine.

She is the author of multiple books including A Doctor’s Dozen: 12 Strategies for Personal Health and a Culture of Wellness.

“We are identifying the challenge of the work that we do,” Pipas said of the event. “How being a part of the health profession, we are at risk for burnout and the commitment that we have to take. To take care of ourselves in order to do a better job in caring for our patients.”

Pipas spoke for around two hours with discussions, questions and group work taking place around finding answers to why burnout is so common in the medical field.

“Why is this happening and to understand the root cause analysis,” Pipas said of the goals of the group work. “It’s not an individual who is incapable to taking care of themselves, it’s really a system who over time created a culture who is not necessarily supportive to the workforce that is in the system.

“We are working to make sure we have environments that are supportive and systems that are not only supportive but certainly not toxic.”

Pipas said those healthy environments that prevent burnouts can change a lot of things, not only the individual.

“Burnouts can be very costly,” she said. “Not only the individual, the health professional, but it impacts the organizations we work for. In terms of the bottom line and the money lost.

“Most importantly, it affects our patients. We decrease our patient outcome, we have more errors and we’re really not doing as good of a job in we are not taking care of ourselves.”

She said she travels around to many settings such as Thursday’s to help promote wellness in their workforce and to create a culture of wellness across health professionals.

After Pipas was finished speaking, panel discussions on effective wellness strategies took place with a variety of instructors from the WVU School of Medicine Charleston Division.

Her book, A Doctor’s Dozen: 12 Strategies for Personal Health and a Culture of Wellness, is now featured as curriculum at institutions.

It features stories from patients affected by burnout and it has exercises at the end of each chapter.

The panels proposed strategies and solutions to the burnout and wellness issues before medical students took self-assessments and tried to apply strategies in their own lives to reduce stress.

Pipas said the students took major steps Thursday and these are the same steps being taken nationwide by health professionals.

“Everyone is being held in charge nationally with making sure we have initiatives of much more than yoga class,” she said.

“Every school has champions whether it is a chief wellness officer, whether it s front line task force member or students who are in charge of wellness.”

Scott Holmes and Jennifer John, both four-year medical students at WVU helped organize the event.

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