Eugene, Ore., plastic surgeon Kiya Movassaghi, M.D., says his own happiness as a doctor has been at stake. Like so many of his colleagues, including five in two years who committed suicide, Dr. Movassaghi says he felt the weight of being a physician on his shoulders. The weight was a wall, separating him from feeling happy in the profession. And he didn’t know how to climb over that wall.
Dr. Movassaghi, who presented “Physician Happiness Study” at the at the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery’s The Aesthetic Meeting 2017 in San Diego, Calif., says a lack of happiness and burnout is a big, underdiagnosed issue among physicians.
“Physicians are very good at taking care of our patients but very bad about taking care of our own needs,” says Dr. Movassaghi, who is immediate past-president of the Northwest Society of Plastic Surgeons and sits of the board of the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
Especially plastic surgeons seem to be suffering. Plastic and vascular surgeons were the least satisfied among 16 surgical specialties, according to a study published last October in JAMA Surgery.
The problem, according to Dr. Movassaghi, is physicians are taught to ignore how they feel, not complain, and push forward. Ironically, that’s what feeds burnout.
He cites a quote by Dike Drummond, M.D., a family practice physician who left medicine to address today’s burnout epidemic among physicians by coaching, training and consulting on the topic.
“One thing that Dr. Drummond says is, burnout is not a problem; burnout is a dilemma. Burnout is not a problem, therefore, there is no solution. But you can [work through it with] strategies. It’s an ongoing thing that you have to deal with. [You] can’t fix it and move on,” Dr. Movassaghi says.
Once doctors recognize that burnout is a dilemma and the signs and symptoms that happen with burnout, they can use daily strategies to restore happiness, he says.
Dr. Movassaghi offers these three strategies, for starters:
- Have a schedule hack. Your iPhone is packed with everything having to do with your work schedule. But there might be nothing added in to reflect your personal life. Sit down with family or friends and hack your schedule with things you enjoy, such as time allotted for your favorite workout, a massage, watching the kids play soccer or having lunch with your spouse. Set priorities in stone. If someone requests time for work during a hack, politely decline.
- Take a moment to soak in the good that happens throughout the day. Remember, you’re trained not to feel pain — whether it’s physical or emotional. But that’s not human. Feeling is how we’re naturally wired. So, if a patient says thank you, don’t nod, walk out of the room and think it’s your job. Stop and take a moment to take in that gratitude and connect with the patient. It’s energizing. It makes you happy and feel good about what you’re doing. Hug a person. “I give a lot of hugs. It makes me feel good,” Dr. Movassaghi says.
- ake time for yourself, even if it’s only seconds. If you’re washing your hands between patients, take a deep breath and connect with yourself. That’s your time. Reset.
“Take care of yourself. If you need help, get help,” Dr. Movassaghi says.