Over the course of a single year, several Intermountain Healthcare physicians died by suicide. Intermountain leaders recognized their responsibility to create a culture that prioritizes and values physician, advanced practice provider (APP) and caregiver wellbeing.
In her role as the Intermountain senior medical director of physician/APP experience and wellbeing, Dr. Anne Pendo modified the bi-weekly Learning & Leadership call to develop a training course. The goal of the course was to create a safe space for physicians by normalizing and destigmatizing help-seeking behavior and had three key components:
- Training for individuals to connect peers to resources to learn how to facilitate meaningful conversations;
- Training for leaders to recognize concerning behaviors and how to support team members and
- Training for leaders to facilitate conversations about team members’ specific needs and how leaders can best meet those needs.
Dr. Pendo and her team worked to normalize physicians seeking mental health support through internal communication efforts, including testimonials on accessing mental health care, and wellbeing Grand Rounds that focused on help-seeking, accessing resources and talking with colleagues and leaders. The bi-weekly Learning & Leadership calls focused on sharing the hard parts of leadership, thinking deeply and reflecting on leadership challenges, learning how to navigate difficult conversations and exploring ways to support each other and their teams.
“We can thrive personally and professionally in health care, but we need to foster certain skills to be able to work in an industry that is complex, complicated and rapidly changing,” said Dr. Pendo. “The pandemic highlighted an opportunity to grow our wellbeing and resiliency skills and create an organizational culture where we aren’t afraid to get help.”
One noticeable impact of these trainings is that leaders are quicker to step forward and direct individuals to the resources they need. They are embracing their role in employee wellbeing by connecting team members with employee assistance programs (EAP), peer support or professional support. Further, Intermountain has experienced a noticeable culture shift to place greater value on authentic vulnerability, where physicians can talk more openly about their struggles without fear of judgement or consequences.
“Valuing our physicians’ wellbeing has helped us develop an environment that physicians want to work in. As an organization, it is our duty to create a culture of wellbeing and embed these values within our leadership. Sometimes ‘keeping it together’ isn’t an option; we want our physicians to know that it’s not only okay, it’s encouraged to talk about mental health struggles and seek help.”