Physician Wellness: The Rock Star Doctor’s Guide—Change Your Thinking, Improve Your Life

Hugh Silk, MD, MPH

Fam Med. 2020;52(4):304-305.

DOI: 10.22454/FamMed.2020.714048

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Book Title: Diagnosis Narratives and the Healing Ritual in Western Medicine

Book Author: Rebekah Bernard, Steven Cohen

Publication Information: Rock Star Medicine Press (self-published), 2018, 247 pp., $18.95, paperback

If I were going to write a book on physician wellness, this is how I would do it. Rebekah Bernard, MD is a fellow family physician who has teamed up with clinical psychologist Steven Cohen, PsyD, to offer advice to colleagues about being more mindful, setting boundaries, and improving efficiency. The authors accomplish this by organizing their advice around 10 simple rules for clinician wellness. The first and most important, as expressed in the first words in the book, is: “The system is broken, you don’t have to be” (p 1). This sets a tone that the physician will not be blamed but will be offered a series of practical tips for working more effectively within our broken health care system. Each tip is attainable. Smartly, the book is designed as a how-to manual, divided into 20 chapters and a series of appendices. Each chapter has an explanation about the advice, followed by exercises for the reader to work on. Exercise examples include using a gratitude journal, doing an exam room time study, or working on financial goals. The authors tout the book as “specific, practical, data-driven advice.”

The book is a quick read. However, it is not intended to be read cover-to-cover in one sitting. Like other practical self-help books that I have benefitted from, this one is set up for the reader to pick and choose from the sections they need to work on in their professional and personal life. There are many topics to choose from, including mindfulness, time management, learning to say no, and dealing with bad outcomes. In fact, so many topics are covered that my only complaint about the book is that some topics are only touched on superficially. Covering mindfulness in six pages is inadequate; the book is more like a buffet than a three-course meal. That said, it is ideal for medical students and residents who want to establish a foundation of good habits for clinical efficiencies and life balance, and still offer patients personalized care. Learners will appreciate the chapter on thoughtfully dealing with difficult patients. This book is also ideal for the seasoned clinician or educator who feels that life is getting away from them due to the moral distress that the medical system is thrusting upon us. However, it might be too simplistic for those who have already spent time delving into mindful medical practice and office transformation. I found that I was getting more reminders and just a few new tips.

This book is a companion to Dr Bernard’s first book, How to Be a Rock Star Doctor: The Complete Guide to Taking Back Control of Your Life and Your Profession. What sets this newer book apart is that it is founded on principles of psychology that family physicians will recognize and appreciate. She writes about seeing a colleague commit suicide, someone who appeared to be doing great externally, and she felt motivated to help others avoid burning out. The book includes a chapter on identifying compassion fatigue in our fellow doctors and tips on how to approach them caringly.

The authors cover some of the routine wellness topics like eating well, sleeping enough, and taking time for vacation and hobbies. They also focus on reframing our stress. Importantly, there is a refreshing emphasis on nuances like leaving time for transitions in one’s schedule to decrease stress and a robust section on tending to relationships. What I especially appreciate about this book is the detailed section on how to improve office-based systems. Physicians often focus on improving their personal wellness, but without improved workflow and decreased office hassles, frustrations often continue. The authors point to something I have been doing for some time now: placing less emphasis on notes—embrace the bullet point, let typos go, and write for yourself rather than for perfection. They explain how the lawyers and billing specialists will still be content. Furthermore, they add practical information on personalizing schedules, since we all practice differently.

I applaud the authors for discussing how these issues can be different for women. The book ends with a reminder that there is always a way out—change jobs, take leave, or find a new career—an important message for those who are really struggling. The appendices offer a helpful list of resources including other wellness books and a list of state-by-state wellness programs. Personally, I am already doing about three-quarters of the suggestions in the book; if you are not, buy the book!

Lead Author

Hugh Silk, MD, MPH

Affiliations: University of Massachusetts Medical School Worcester, MA

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