June 09, 2016

Choosing resilience in academic medicine

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It’s easy to be burned out and frustrated by the daily grind of academic medicine. Because we, as an academic medical center, strive to answer questions that can have an impact in our communities and define the next generation of care, we’re met daily with challenges—from added IT demands, to cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, decreasing extramural funding and increasing demands on our time. No wonder it’s easy for us to get frustrated by the academic environment.

The idea of resilience has been on my mind the past several weeks. I spoke a few weeks ago to the Society of Surgeons of the Alimentary Tract and talked about the importance of resilience as it relates specifically to surgeons; but it’s a topic that applies to everyone in a larger academic environment.

Resilience is a person’s ability to adapt to stress and adversity. Rosabeth M. Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School, gave the best definition when she said that resilience “draws from strength of character, from a core set of values that motivate efforts to overcome the setback and resume walking the path to success.”

Kanter says that resilience “also thrives on a sense of community—the desire to pick oneself up because of an obligation to others and because of support from others who want the same thing.” I think this speaks especially to academic medicine, and the idea that we must create a culture to support one another and to encourage each other through both failures and successes.

Leaders need to do all we can to create an environment that allows as much decision making as possible to occur at appropriate levels, to also give as much sense of support that we can possibly give and be as conscious as we can to the contributions of physicians, scientists, educators and employees. We have to be aware that individuals in our environment are going to have stress, and because of the challenges facing academic medicine, they’re going to be taxed more often and to the point that they believe it can’t be sustained.

I think practically, we as an institution have to provide means and tools to help scientists and physicians grow in an intellectual capacity, as well as emotional intelligence.  We must be sensitive, build processes that make people feel supported, remember we all have lives outside UAB and give as much support and control to each person to make decisions in their workspace.

We often become frustrated and exhausted when we lose sight of the bigger picture in the day-to-day hustle and bustle of our careers and when we forget how fortunate we are, in both in what we have and what we’re able to do to help others.  We are learning practical strategies to make our workplace one where individuals feel supported and valued, which helps build resilience and satisfaction.

As we move forward, I welcome any input on how the School of Medicine can help its faculty, students and staff to build resilience. You can submit your comments and suggestions here. I look forward to hearing from you. 
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