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Physician burnout has become a topic of growing concern over the last several years, particularly within Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R). This medical specialty has higher percentages of burnout—about 50 percent, according to a study by the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. MetroHealth’s PM&R department has taken this seriously and has sought ways to reduce burnout and improve mental wellness—starting with our residents.

“We wanted to help residents put healthy mental health habits into practice early in their career,” explains Heather Rainey, MD, Director of Sports Medicine and Assistant Professor of PM&R. “We shared the initiative with our residents, and they ran with it.”

The result was Wellness Wednesdays. These once-a-month lunchtime gatherings make space for residents to decompress, connect, and practice a little self-care. To date, Wellness Wednesdays have included light fitness activities, artistic endeavors and social events. Whatever the activity—planned by different residents each time—the goal is the same: relax, refuel and rejuvenate to address the root causes of burnout.

“Wellness Wednesdays have become a great way for our PM&R residents to take a mental break from the work of residency,” Dr. Rainey says. “They’ve also become a space for residents to get to know one another more on a personal level, which is important as our social connections play a critical part in our mental wellness.”

Dr. Rainey says she’s heard from many residents, and they’ve come to really appreciate this time, which in turn helps lessen the stress and burnout.

“Wellness Wednesdays was implemented to help residents take a break from the day-to-day stressors of work and bond with their fellow residents in new fun ways that hopefully improves social connection and wellbeing,” says Claire Cooper, a MetroHealth resident. “Sometimes you have to persuade the residents to come down, but usually after the hour you will hear residents genuinely say, ‘I feel well!’ It has been full of games, healthy snacks, yoga, meditation and various seasonal activities.  It is also an adaptable time that can shift and change with the classes.”

In an investigation on trends in clinician burnout, Mark Linzer, MD, evaluated key indicators of a healthy workplace by surveying 20,627 U.S. clinicians (including residents). Feeling valued was one of the key indicators that could help lessen burnout. The findings were published in the JAMA Health Forum (Nov. 2022).

Dr. Linzer reported that feeling valued was a big mitigator, with burnout rates 30% lower if present. Teamwork also contributed to reducing burnout. In addition to helping our current residents develop healthy habits of self-care and wellness, PM&R leadership hopes initiatives like Wellness Wednesdays will demonstrate to prospective candidates the value MetroHealth places on well-being.