By Todd Pickard, MMSc, PA-C, DFAAPA
I have been practicing team-based medicine for the past 19 years. With the growing attention to burnout, I find myself reflecting on how practicing in a team impacts my own wellness. I can personally say that I have experienced both highly functional teams and highly dysfunctional teams. These experiences generate an image of either a deep, calm reservoir that sustains me or a dark, empty pit that fills me with anxiety.
When I hear discussion of burnout, this tends to focus on the individual and what one can do for themselves. While I agree that personal wellness is important, it seems that the conversation may benefit from stepping back and taking a slightly larger view. Human beings are social creatures that live in a social construct. We are not lone wolves in the wilderness.
Recently, I had a patient recovering from surgery who had experienced some complications. He had developed a pelvic abscess with highly resistant microbes. He had been treated with wide-spectrum antibiotics as an inpatient and was presenting for his first ambulatory follow-up. My attending was out and I was responsible for the patient. He presented with a slight fever, a recurrent pelvic fluid collection, and his ANC and WBC were starting to elevate. I immediately became concerned and communicated with my team: a nurse, a fellow and another PA. We all sprang into action—one of us called interventional radiology to get a drain placed, another called infectious disease, and another reached out to the attending to review our plan. The team was a resource for me and worked with me to ensure that the burden of care was not overwhelming.
This kind of event has an impact on you as a provider. If your team is not working well, it is a source of conflict and disappointment on a daily basis. This will certainly contribute to burnout. If your team is working well, it is a source of confidence. This can be a bulwark against burnout. The concept of team wellness seems so evident and makes sense, but so many of us forget about our team and instead turn inward to explore our own needs and emotions. Remember the old saying that “misery loves company”? I think that it rings true, and would even go further to state that “misery is contagious.” I also find that the opposite is true. When my team is happy, I am happy.
I plan to explore this concept of team wellness through a series of interviews. Finding best practices and shared experiences may empower more of us to create and support happy, well-functioning teams. I hope to share my findings in the fall of 2017.
Mr. Pickard is a PA that practices in urology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. He is also the director of PA Practice with shared governance for more than 800 advanced practice providers.