The Daily Tar Heel
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The Daily Tar Heel

Letter: We need to protect medical students from burnout.

The pressure of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with a renewed interest in the physical and mental health of the American public, has reinvigorated concerns regarding physician burnout and wellness. 

As a current fourth-year medical student pursuing a residency position in the field of general surgery, the importance of my future colleagues’ and my own wellness is a daily consideration. According to the American College of Surgeons, over half (52 percent) of surgeons report a feeling of burnout or being overwhelmed at work. This reduction in well-being can directly affect surgical success and patient care. 

While the days of pyramidal residency programs are in the past and increasing emphasis has been placed on workplace equity and support, the stressors of surgical practice remain strong. The daily witness of physical and emotional distress, pain, trauma and even death as a practicing surgeon should not be taken lightly.

It is time that the public rallies to the American College of Surgeons’ call to address the challenges associated with the practice of surgery. This can be done through the promotion of improved wellness initiatives, reduction of the stigma surrounding physician distress and recognition of poor surgeon well-being.

In writing to you today, I hope to improve awareness surrounding surgical practice and to encourage the community to rally around the promotion of physician wellness. I encourage those who know people within the specialty to reach out to check in and to ask how they could provide support for them. I encourage physicians to engage with their colleagues, to discuss their challenging cases, their troublesome thoughts and tell someone when they may be experiencing burnout.

In this same light, I also hope to advocate for daily wellness plans for a surgeon. Whether in the form of spiritual practice, meditation, exercise or time spent with loved ones, the time spent outside of patient care should be of utmost importance. While this form of wellness may not be the model for every person, I hope that this letter provides additional knowledge to the public to assist in the support of their surgical leaders. 

This letter represents a short description of my passion for physician wellness and the major goals that I have as a surgical resident, advocating for the improvement of surgeon well-being and the reduction of burnout.

Austin Lubkemann, UNC School of Medicine


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