USACS Scholars Tackle Physician Wellness at the Workstation

The USACS Scholars Program has many uses, from training the next generation of leaders in acute care to deepening relationships between USACS clinicians across regions and sharing information and best practices back to the site levels.

Perhaps an underappreciated benefit, however, is the ability of a new group of leaders to look on old problems with fresh eyes. Take as one example workstations in the emergency departments at hundreds of USACS sites. They were designed with many noble purposes in mind, but low on priority or absent all together from that list is physician wellness.

“A lot of people talk about wellness as things outside the hospital,” said Dr. Joyce Perfetti, a member of the most recent graduating class of USACS scholars. “They don’t talk as much about wellness on shift.”

Perfetti, together with three of her scholars classmates – Dr. David Lim, and PAs Nicolette Mosinki and Evelyn Powers – in April published an article in ACEP Now, Optimizing Emergency Department Workspace to Promote Wellness. Dr. James Augustine, one of several senior USACS clinicians who act as mentors in the program, assisted in guiding the group toward a finished article, and helped them place it in ACEP Now.

The article and the data that accompanied it is the culmination of the collaborative project all USACS Scholars must complete over the course of the year-long program. Those who worked on the project hope it helps spur a much-needed conversation about how physicians and groups like USACS can take greater ownership over the physical comfort and utility of their workspaces. Doing so will not only increase physician wellness, they say, but ultimately support better patient care.

Polling Providers on Workplace Wellness

“It was a very broad topic. We didn’t really know how to approach it,” said Lim, recalling the early stages, when he and his scholar classmates were in the early stages of developing the project.

They decided to prepare a survey to give to hundreds of clinicians who would gather later that year for a USACS Assembly. But first, they needed to figure out what questions to ask. Each of the clinicians involved took on different aspects the workplace: the communications systems, the workstation itself, and more.

The group posted a solicitation for common issues to the private EM Docs Facebook group, and they also took the question back to their individual sites for input. Eventually, they narrowed in on a set of questions designed to probe the most common complaints and preferences for improvement.

Some of the findings were a bit surprising – not too many people seemed to care about getting more snacks, for example. But other findings were all too predictable: interruptions are a huge problem, and more solutions are needed to streamline and improve communication. According to the results, published in ACEP Now, the top preferred solution for that was a desktop messenger system, followed closely by an app for their smart phones.

“After 15 years, we are finally getting to the point where people are really taking a look at these issues,” Augustine said. “The systems are set up to make 24/7 service as durable as possible. But now is the time to press technology to create a better work environment for our clinicians.”

Lim said focusing on wellness at the workstation was a way for he and his classmates to more fully own a pervasive problem faced by nearly all acute providers – but one where effort at change is rarely serious.

“We talked about how a lot of people just take things as status quo. It’s just how it is,” Lim said. “Or, they don’t even define it as their own work area, so they don’t think about how to optimize it.”

“One of the Smartest and Best Things in My Career”

Perfetti said she hopes the article helps clinicians in emergency departments around the country think through issues as she and the rest of the scholars did. Beyond the collaborative project, Perfetti said the Scholars Program itself “is probably one of the smartest and best things in my career.”

She said the program helped her make connections throughout the country, both with other scholars and with leadership. The program’s sections on self-analysis and introspection gave her a much deeper understanding of her strengths and weaknesses – and it forced her to challenge herself to become a better leader within the ED’s team setting.

Lim similarly said the Scholars Program has been a crucial part of developing as both a clinician and a leader. “Doing a project like this makes you realize how integrated we are, and how much of a whole company we all are,” he said. “It humanizes everyone. You don’t feel like it’s just a corporate entity that’s running everybody. There’s a voice there.”

“Sometimes it’s not easy to see the overall reason for decisions being made,” Lim continued. “Scholars really helps you understand the why.”