Jefferson Surgical Solutions


Growing up, Ashesh Shah, MD, watched his parents balance their dual medical careers with the demands of family life. Back then, he says, they set their own clinic hours based on their children’s schedules and went home together for lunch. Even administrative challenges were simple, with unpaid bills filed in a recipe box.

“When it comes to well-being and work-life balance, times have changed,” Dr. Shah says. “The consequences can be dire.”

Last May, Michael S. Weinstein, MD, FCCM, brought surgeon wellness to the forefront with his “Out of the Straitjacket” column in The New England Journal of Medicine. Dr. Weinstein wrote about his personal battle with depression and burnout while working as a trauma surgeon at Jefferson. His candor contributed to the launch of the Department of Surgery Wellness Committee last summer. Now led by Dr. Shah and Surgical Resident Brock Hewitt, MD, the committee aims to “foster a supportive community that promotes the well-being of each individual within our department.”

“There’s been a push to acknowledge that things aren’t always perfect for physicians and we need to take care of ourselves as we take care of others,” says Dr. Hewitt. Indeed, Dr. Shah believes physician wellness is vital to patient care: “If you’re feeling stressed or unappreciated, it’s hard to provide the emotional support you need to give patients so they will feel well cared for.”

The Committee’s first initiative was a formal survey to understand how the Department compares to national benchmarks on wellness. They selected an instrument called the Well-being Index – a brief, anonymous survey that is helping identify where the Committee should focus its efforts.

About two-thirds of the Department completed the survey, revealing that employees’ wellness is generally comparable to national averages for attending physicians, resident physicians and other clinical and nonclinical employees. Advanced practice professionals (physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners) were the only cohort with slightly above-average levels of stress. The survey also identified a trend of higher stress during the first three years of residency and the first few years of working as an attending physician.

The Committee is now soliciting suggestions for how to enhance wellness in the Department. Preliminary possibilities range from adding more staff to facilitating on-the-job exercise, on-site massage and group social outings.

“Effective wellness solutions are all very local, so we’re hopeful we’ll be able to derive some good ideas from the people in the Department,” Dr. Shah says. “Over time, we want to make changes to bring our wellness levels above the national averages.”