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UNC School of Medicine faculty take community approach to combat burnout


Dr. Nadia Charguia, an associate professor and child psychiatrist in the UNC School of Medicine, said she began to feel burnt out soon after beginning her career in the medical field.

As a doctor who works in in-patient care, she said being unable to provide care to the fullest extent became frustrating. Charguia said her experiences with burnout motivated her to expand access to resources for other faculty in need.

She also currently serves as the executive medical director of the Taking Care of Our Own program in the SOM, which aims to provide timely access to clinical and non-clinical mental health services in addition to reducing stigmas around burnout using educational initiatives.

“A reality was that there were just a number of systemic factors that really altered, at times, what we would hope we could do in regards to the care needs of our patients, and that became hard,” she said. “It became hard to sit with and keep showing up every day, but not feeling as effective in driving outcomes.”

TCOOO, which was started in 2012, was originally only for physicians but is now geared towards all UNC health science teammates within the SOM.

“We were doctors meeting with other doctors,” Charguia said. “I think the ability to have both the familiarity, the understanding and awareness of what that experience is, being within our own system and knowing our systems through and through, really allowed for a great sense of comfort and that ‘get it’ factor just seemed to be more automatic with our program.”

Dr. Nikki Binz, a clinical associate professor in UNC's SOM, spoke highly of the program’s impact and mentioned a time when one of the residents she oversaw was able to access same-day mental health services while they were experiencing a crisis.

Despite this, not all SOM faculty have been reached by this program.

Dr. M. Andrea Azcarate-Peril, a professor of medicine, said she was not aware of TCOOO. Azcarate-Peril said there have been periods where she felt burnt out in her field due to the pressures she faces and feeling as though she cannot take a break.

“If I lose my productivity, if I'm less efficient, if I don't bring what I'm supposed to bring, I'm going to lose my job because I'm not a tenure-track faculty,” Azcarate-Peril said.

She said she believes this issue is not specific to UNC, however — but is rather a cultural issue on a national scale.

Still, she said her colleagues and faculty are supportive and are there if she reaches out to them.

This type of community support is something Charguia said she tries to emphasize through her contributions to wellness programs, such as the Peer Support Program, which connects faculty members who work direct with patients with peer support volunteers following potentially traumatic events.

Binz said she thinks having this level of community is what sets UNC SOM apart from other schools of medicine.

As a mother, Binz said she sees support from many of her female colleagues who also have families to take care of. She said they will frequently work together to trade shifts when needed. Binz noted that oftentimes women can experience burnout at higher rates than men because of these challenges.

The struggles of balancing work and taking care of a family were similarly expressed by Azcarate-Peril — who said she first experienced burnout when she had her kids.

“You have kids and then you are expected to come back to work and keep the same level of productivity,” she said. “In fact, I was asked to write a proposal when I was on maternity leave.”

As her team learns more about faculty members’ burnout experiences, Charguia said they are constantly looking for new ways to expand the SOM wellness initiatives to better support everyone.

“Trying to be an active voice and partner in that work is something that we strive for, certainly," she said. "Personally, something that I've adopted as my own individual mission.”

@dailytarheel |

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