Finding Joy: The Health Care Professional’s Journey to Well-being

Overcoming Burnout

October 12, 2021 Washington State University Health Sciences Season 1 Episode 3
Finding Joy: The Health Care Professional’s Journey to Well-being
Overcoming Burnout
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode you will hear from Washington State University Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine students Nina Thach and Michelle Hedeen. They talk about the importance of taking care of your mental health. We’ll also hear from their preceptor Dr. Patricia Wooden from PeaceHealth Medical Group. She talks about teaching mindfulness, Balint groups, overcoming perfectionism, and more.

Additional Information:

“Finding Joy: The Health Care Professional’s Journey to Well-being" is a podcast resource developed by a team of interprofessional education researchers from Washington State University Health Sciences Spokane. They’re promoting well-being among students, faculty, and healthcare professionals during challenging times. Funding is provided by the Health Resources and Services Administration.

The Interprofessional Education Research team wishes to thank the following individuals for their invaluable contributions to this project:

• Dr. Barb Richardson, nurse, educator, and interprofessional champion;

• Cameron Cupp, creator of the “Finding Joy” musical score and current enrollee at WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine;

• Washington State University staff from Marketing and Communications, Financial Services, and the Collaboration for Interprofessional Health Education Research and Scholarship; and

• Claire Martin-Tellis, Executive Producer, and Solen Aref, student intern, who developed the first five episodes of the “Finding Joy” podcast.

This episode of “Finding Joy” was produced by Doug Nadvornick, Program Director, Spokane Public Radio.

If you would like to reach out, please contact our team by sending an email to: We also encourage you to visit our podcast blog as well as our team's website at:

Narrator  0:00  
Health care workers are under an immense amount of pressure in their day to day lives. Some days are better than others in the journey to find balance. This podcast will explore how doctors, nurses, medical students and other health professionals are attempting to reduce the pressures in their lives. Reduce the feeling of burnout at work. This is their journey, Finding Joy.

Nina Thach  0:36  
Hi, I'm Nina Thach and I'm a third year medical student at the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and I'm practicing under Dr. Wooden at the Peace Health Hospital in Vancouver, Washington.

Michelle Hedeen  0:46  
Hi, I'm Michelle a fourth year medical student at Washington State University Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine. I will be pursuing family medicine and I've been practicing under Dr. Wooden at Peace Health family medicine clinic in Vancouver, Washington.

Narrator  1:02  
For Nina and Michelle a huge part of their success has been having Dr. Wooden as a mentor, a kind and understanding lead doctor known as a preceptor for medical students has attributed to a more joyful work environment.

Nina Thach  1:16  
Yeah, Dr. Wooden, she showcases a doctor that I really want to aspire to be. When I first started working with her, sometimes there'll be music playing and she'll open the door and say a good morning and have a little dance to it. And immediately, you can just tell that her patients just smile and brighten up no matter. Maybe they're having a bad day, maybe they might be in pain. But just in that brief moment. She gives them a moment to just forget about it, just smile and laughed. And this just brings this optimistic positive attitude into the room. I think one thing that I appreciate is that she takes everyone in terms of the team and treats them with so much respect that everyone's voice counts every opinion matters. And then also, she's the person who wants to make sure everyone, you know, mentally, physically and spiritually is just well.

Narrator  2:20  
That relationship built on respect and giving all team members voice creates some accountability for self care.

Michelle Hedeen  2:27  
I know for some physicians I've worked with, they've talked about the relationships they have with their medical assistant or the rest of their staff who will actually speak up and notice when they're being a little shorter, either short tempered, or just losing a little bit of their empathy. And they have staff that's kind of comfortable enough to call them out and say, hey, your, are you getting enough sleep? Is there anything we can do? We've noticed this change, are you taking care of yourself? And that's hard to find sometimes, because it's not a comfortable thing to bring up and for other people to ask them if they're okay.

Dr. Patricia Wooden, M.D.  3:01  
I think one of the most important things that I do is just really focus on what or who is right in front of me.

Narrator  3:10  
That's Dr. Patricia Wooden, a family physician that's been at Peace Health Medical Group in Vancouver, Washington for 15 years.

Dr. Patricia Wooden, M.D.  3:18  
So whether you're my the medical student who's working with me that day, or the patient that's coming to see me or a nurse that's coming to ask me a question. I really do try to stop and focus on what it is that you're asking and what it is that you need. And then is there something teachable in that moment? Is there something that you can learn and not just for the students, but for the rest of my staff and for my patients? What can I teach you right here that helps empower you to be able to take better care of yourself or take better care of other patients? And so that continuous learning aspect, I think it's been really helpful. And then, you know, as I see myself as as the leader of our team here, and so it's really important that I sort of be the calm in the eye of the storm. And so sometimes if people are really stressed out or really upset I say, well wait a minute, let's just take a breath here. And let's let's think about what's the what's the thing we need to do next, what's the most important thing to do right now? And I think that helps, helps them identify the skills that they have to deal with the situation and help them identify when they need to ask for help.

Narrator  4:29  
For Dr. Wooden remaining mindful of the work home balance is a key part of keeping burnout at bay.

Dr. Patricia Wooden, M.D.  4:36  
So I have what I call a boundary ritual, which is when I come into work and I put on the persona of Dr. Wooden I wear my badge and my stethoscope and I get my coffee and I open my charts and that's how I, I leave home behind and come to work and then I try to be fully present while I'm here. And then I try to do the opposite at night when I go home. I take the badge off, I take the stethoscope off. And as I'm doing those things I'm, I'm thinking about returning to be Trish and mom, which is who I am at home. And so then I get in my car and if it's been a particularly bad day, sometimes I spend a little while sitting in the car, either in the parking lot or in the driveway before I walk into the house.

Narrator  5:17  
Outside of individual efforts to maintain a healthy mindset about work, medical professionals often come together in a type of forum known as Balint groups to talk through hardships. We'll spend an entire episode on the benefits of these groups later in the podcast.

Michelle Hedeen  5:33  
In the beginning, when Balint was first brought up to my class, there was definitely some resistance and some questioning of it. People didn't quite understand, like, what is this crazy Kumbaya circle you're talking about and taking an hour of our lives for? And I actually had to look up the official definition of what Balint group was because I feel like I could get describe it, but I couldn't figure out what the true definition was. And it is a Balint group is a group of clinicians, often physicians who meet regularly to present clinical cases in order to improve and to better understand the clinician-patient relationship. So for our afternoon Balints, we were able to volunteer a case if we felt comfortable doing so. And the times I did share case, it did help to hear other people's perspectives. Like an outside perspective of the parts of the case and interactions with patients and families I might not have otherwise thought about. Then it also really helped to hear some of my classmates experiences and the challenges and understanding that I'm not the only one who has difficult interactions through my training.

Nina Thach  6:47  
For me, Balint gives me that humanity in terms of medicine. I'm studying or at least for these past few years, I've been just non-stop studying all the fundamentals of medicine, the basic science, the diagnoses, the symptoms, but then you just have to remind yourself, you're still a human being. And there's a person who has feelings that has a family, and all these factors that you may not be thinking about at that time, if they're having that chest pain, or that diarrhea. But the fact that you know, it's important to know, so then you just have to bring that back in and think, who's also part of that story. And remembering and reminding myself, that with Balint, and with all the different doctors that I've worked with, that we're still treating a patient. And we're still treating them as a human being, as our neighbor, and making sure that we're taking care of them, not necessarily just for their medical condition, but also what other factors are also causing that problem to persist or get worse. And so really taking into account when you're caring for that patient. And so Balint is just such a good reminder of what encompasses medicine.

Narrator  8:06  
Combating the need to be perfect in practice is a struggle many medical professionals face. Here's what Michelle, Nina, and Dr. Wooden have to say about giving themselves some grace, when perfectionism is unobtainable.

Michelle Hedeen  8:20  
Being in medicine, and I'm sure it's similar in other professions, but you don't really feel like you can show your weaknesses. You need to be the professional. You need to have your stuff together so you can take care of other people. It takes a lot of effort to put that face on, especially when it's not what's really happening underneath. And that gets exhausting. You have this feeling that you need to be perfect. And that's a big part of what burns medical students out I feel. Everyone has mental health, just like they have physical health, you might not have a diagnosis or an illness diagnosed and either of those, but it still needs to be taken care of, and thought of, and nurtured.

Nina Thach  9:06  
I'll also add to that, just the fact that, you know, we're trying to make this normal. We're trying to really open this up so patients can also see that their doctors are also human. Like what you were saying trying to be perfect, no one's perfect. And so if a patient that you're trying to encourage or you know, counsel for the patient, you also need to know what it's like, from their perspective, how maybe they're nervous about it, or embarrassed. And you probably felt the same way when you started. But if you think about it, if you've gone to counseling, and you're open to it, that makes the patient trust you more.

Dr. Patricia Wooden, M.D.  9:44  
You almost have to just have such a degree of flexibility that you're willing to show up and say okay, what are we going to do today? And how am I going to show up my best to take care of myself, and my team, and my patients? And, and you have to that has to be good enough. It might not be perfect, but it has to be good enough. Because otherwise, for me, burnout goes up a lot. I mean, the literature is very clear that errors are much more common when you're dealing with someone who is burned out, or you're dealing with a chaotic work environment. At the end of the day, the thing I care most passionately about is providing the highest quality care for my patients.

Nina Thach  10:24  
I feel like with Dr. Wooden, I've learned so much. And it's in a way that it isn't rushed, and you feel comfortable in terms of, I'm willing to fail in front of you, and be okay, because I'm learning and she gives you this space to really allow that. And so when you're working with her, she'll challenge you, but at the same time, she'll also teach you and you're learning so much from her and the patients. And whenever I meet her patients, and you see the way that they talk to her, sometimes she gives them tough love, but they take it and they want it because they know that she knows what's best for them and that trust. So that connection that they want and they have with her is something I want to have some day when I'm a doctor, because it's just so important.

Narrator  11:20  
This podcast series is made for the Washington State University, Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and funded by the Health Resources Services Administration grant number T0BHP33106.

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