Battling Burnout: Big Ideas From Hematology Trainees

Lisa Hicks, MD, MSc
Associate Scientist, Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto; ASH Committee on Quality Chair

During this year’s Special Symposium on Quality, experts will discuss an often-overlooked driver of quality of patient care: burnout. Attendees will get a chance to hear about, and weigh in on, “big ideas” from hematology trainees on how to battle burnout. Here, ASH Committee on Quality Chair Lisa Hicks, MD, MSc, shares a preview of the topics being covered in the session, including why burnout needs to be included in conversations about quality.

Why was burnout chosen as the topic of this year’s quality symposium?

I’d like to note that we selected this topic before the COVID-19 pandemic. If hematology was stressful before COVID-19, that stress has been amplified a hundred times now. We already knew that burnout – and a lack of joy in work – was an increasing problem among seasoned physicians and among learners.

Data have been accumulating about this well-recognized and growing problem, but some people might ask, “Why is burnout an aspect of quality improvement?” For several years now, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and other leaders in the quality improvement community have been stressing that joy in work is integral to high-quality practice and high-quality, safe patient care. Everything we want to achieve in caring for our patients tends to be best achieved by people who are happy and engaged – not overworked and stressed. As much as joy in work is a valid endpoint by itself, it also is an important piece in the puzzle of achieving great outcomes for patients.

How does debt relate to burnout?

Today’s learners are studying and training in an increasingly stressful environment for many different reasons; financial pressures are an important factor. When I trained (which, admittedly, was a while ago!), medical school was expensive, but costs were manageable. Since then, tuition fees have gone through the roof, and the cost of living has only gotten higher. Financial pressures can contribute to anxiety and can affect performance, work-life balance, and myriad other important aspects of the early career experience.

Tell us about the symposium’s format.

We experimented with the “big idea” format for the first time last year, taking our inspiration from the British Society of Haematology, which has been doing this for a while now. The format involves inviting junior physicians and trainees to share their big ideas for major problems in hematology and in practice. Last year, we invited trainees to share their ideas for improving the safety of patient care. This year, we wanted to focus on something a bit different – decreasing burnout. Trainees were invited to submit short proposals in the spring and summer. Four finalists were selected and given the opportunity to deliver their “pitch” at the Special Symposium on Quality during the 2020 ASH Annual Meeting. It’s a fabulous opportunity for a trainee, and a chance for ASH attendees to learn from some new and emerging voices. We hope the session will be very engaging.

In addition to the presentation of the four big ideas, Shelly Dev, MD, from the University of Toronto, will offer her personal perspective about dealing with burnout as a physician: how she recognized burnout in herself and how she has addressed it in her life and practice.

Can you give a sneak peek at some of the “big ideas” being shared?

I don’t want to give too much a way, but I can tell you that we are hearing from four terrific trainees from Cornell University, the University of Miami, Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos in Peru, and the University of California, Los Angeles. Their big ideas involve exploring the healing influence of art, developing online or in-person sessions to help staff and trainees acknowledge and process grief, and exploring efforts to increase targeted mentoring. Each of the finalists will deliver a prerecorded 5-minute presentation outlining his or her proposal, followed by a live Q&A session with the audience and session co-chairs. The audience members will have an opportunity to vote on their favorite proposal; the winner will receive a $1,000 prize, and the three other finalists will each be awarded $500.

Blood, Debt, and Tears: Tackling Burnout in Hematology

Thursday, December 3, 2020
9:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m., Pacific time