A magazine for friends of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

Collaboration for Change


Wellness leaders share best practices at Brown’s inaugural Physician Well-Being Symposium.

Wellness leaders from across Brown and the local health care system gathered at the Medical School on April 24 to network, share ideas, and find ways to work together to build resilience and combat burnout.

Speakers at Brown’s first-ever Physician Well-being Symposium offered strategies ranging from mindfulness training to narrative writing, shared their experiences building wellness programs, and encouraged everyone present to take time to care for themselves. But they also acknowledged that individual solutions do not address system-wide problems.

“This is not going to fix institutional systems,” Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior Jud Brewer, MD, PhD, said of a mindfulness training program for physicians that he developed. “My hope is … we can start to free up that energy where we’re getting in our own way to say, ‘hey, this is what we need to change in our institutions,’ instead of being too exhausted to even think about it.”

Kelly Holder, PhD, chief wellness officer for the Division of Biology and Medicine, said the goal of the event was to “reduce siloing” among like-minded people. “I believe that the solutions we’re looking for will be found within our connections and cooperation,” she said.

Brown Emergency Medicine Director of Wellness Lauren Allister ’97, MD, called the symposium “an important first step.”

“Workshops and symposia like this are really important because we need to work together,” said Allister, an associate professor of emergency medicine and of pediatrics. Asking the audience to forgive the cliche, she added, “There really is no I in team. There’s no I in wellness. You cannot do this work alone.”

Attendees were making connections even before the networking reception that concluded the symposium. After Allister’s talk, William Corwin RES’76 F’79, MD, a retired pulmonologist and clinical assistant professor of medicine, explained how the volunteer work he does for the Rhode Island Medical Society’s Physician Health Program overlaps with the wellness program at Brown Emergency Medicine.

“I would love to collaborate and steal shamelessly any resources that you have that we don’t have,” Corwin told Allister.

Several speakers stressed that a physician’s self-care is essential to good patient care—but their training conflicts with that reality.

“We don’t take care of ourselves and we aren’t trained to take care of ourselves. And we’re also trained, if we’re actually caring for ourselves, we could be spending that time helping our patients,” said Brewer, the director of research and innovation at Brown’s Mindfulness Center. Citing surveys in which large numbers of physicians say they are burnt out and planning to leave the profession, he added, “We have to feel supported. And if we’re not feeling supported, we’re out of here.”

Wellness coach My-Tien Vo ’87 said she not only began her own self-care routine but founded a company to teach others to do the same after seeing the mental health challenges faced by her parents’ caretakers.

“I noticed firsthand how much stress they absorbed each day,” said Vo, who among other clients has worked with school nurses. “Part of my mission is to support healers like you.”

Wellness is also good for the bottom line. When a physician leaves a practice, it can cost up to $1 million to replace them, according to the American Medical Association. Allister said her organization understood that investing in wellness was worth it, not only by paying her fairly but providing her the resources she needed to be effective.

Several students spoke about the work they are doing at the Medical School to offer peer support and integrate wellness education in the curriculum. Holder singled them out for praise, noting, “The medical students are the ones we’re training so they can do our jobs.”

As the future of medicine, it’s more important than ever that those students enter their careers knowing that their health and well-being is as important as their patients’. Allister noted that while many health care organizations measure patient satisfaction, not enough ask about provider satisfaction.

“I want people to feel joy in their work,” she added. “I want people to feel cared for at work. I want people to have sustained careers in medicine where they feel like they are honoring the service that they had hoped to achieve in their careers while also taking care of themselves.”


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