Dr. Christopher Doty Leads Charge in Promoting Wellness for Colleagues

As an emergency physician, Christopher Doty, MD, knows firsthand about the stress the COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted on health care providers. As the chair of the College of Medicine Wellness Committee, he also knows that the increased stress extends beyond the emergency department and the clinic.

“There’s been lots of talk nationally” about the dangers of COVID-19-related stress on clinicians, “but basic science faculty are suffering, too,” Dr. Doty said.

“Biomedical faculty are judged by their research grants and publications,” he added. “And research labs have been shut down because of restrictions about in-person work, so research and publications are affected. Classes are disturbed, too. There’s stress created by the inability to do the basic, fundamental things they need to do to show value.”

The COVID-19 challenge to wellness further complicates the underlying stress of modern medical practice, a circumstance Dr. Doty ascribes to “increased use of computers and all kinds of necessary documentation. You spend less time at the bedside and more in documenting. But that doctor-patient relationship is what keeps doctors engaged. With more computers, there’s less engagement. And the work becomes just a job, not a vocation.”

Physicians and other health care workers may be aware of a problem with stress, but refuse to admit it, Dr. Doty said. “There’s a self-defeating culture in medicine. People are reticent to ask for help. It’s not okay to be not okay. It’s like you can’t be vulnerable.”

What can a college wellness committee do? According to Dr. Doty, the key to improving wellness is to find ways to measure what’s happening and identify resources to help people.

The wellness committee has submitted a proposal for the College of Medicine to join a national initiative coordinated by the Mayo Clinic to measure burnout in health care providers. As for identifying resources, the wellness committee has launched a website to meet that need.

“We’ve catalogued all the wellness resources in a database, and it’s open to search for everyone, including students, in UK HealthCare and the UK College of Medicine,” Dr. Doty explained. These resources include financial, nutritional, physical wellness, and mental health information and advice, and will be updated regularly. “It’s a living document.”

In the meantime, Dr. Doty and the wellness committee encourage department-level action in facing the problem of stress.

“Wellness issues are hyper-local. We want departments to develop smaller wellness groups to find what their constituency needs and to bring these needs forward,” he said.

Perhaps most important is what Dr. Doty calls an “enormous victory”—the appointment of a chief wellness officer for the College of Medicine. The associate dean-level position was created expressly to address issues of wellness within the College of Medicine and the UK HealthCare enterprise. A search is in progress, and the selected candidate should begin work shortly after the middle of the year.

“People had to agree there was a problem to solve and that it was worth funding,” Dr. Doty said, adding that the investment demonstrates UK’s serious, ongoing commitment to the wellness of its faculty, staff, and students.

This post was originally shared by UK College of Medicine.

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