Dean's Weekly Message

November 4, 2019

Dear colleague:

The National Academy of Medicine issued a report, “Taking Action Against Clinician Burnout: A Systems Approach to Professional Well-Being,” in late October that found that between 35 percent and 54 percent of physicians and nurses in the United States experience substantial symptoms of burnout. The Washington Post published an article that summarizes the report this way: “Health-care workers are especially prone to burnout, the report found, because of the workload, pressure and chaos that they deal with each day. As the country’s health-care system has become increasingly dysfunctional, the bulk of that dysfunction has landed on them — resulting in long hours, mounting paperwork and bureaucratic hurdles, fear of malpractice lawsuits and insufficient resources.”

Marc Moss, MD, professor of medicine, is acknowledged among those who made presentations at public meetings for this National Academy of Medicine report. Marc and Meredith Mealer, PhD, associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation, have conducted research and published work on ways to help critical care nurses cope more effectively with work factors that cause burnout.

The causes of burnout are multifaceted, so remedies are not simple and some proposed solutions are easier said than done. For example, the authors recommend reducing administrative burdens and optimizing the use of health information technologies. Streamlining the flow of work is an ideal that should constantly be pursued, but we are reminded that some tasks are required by outside agencies – governmental authorities, accrediting bodies, insurance companies, professional organizations – and, as a result, we have only limited control over them.

What we can control, though, we should. We must create positive working and learning environments that are built on mutual respect and open inquiry. Toward that goal, we can reward collaboration, communication, and professionalism, we can respect one another’s differences and rely on one another’s strengths, and we can share tasks by recognizing that we are here for the common purpose of helping others. We can review work schedules and requirements. We can offer educational curriculum for resilience, stress management, and self-care training. We can remind ourselves to step away when we need to and we can offer to step in when others need help. The existing health care system evolved into its current state over decades with a set of structures, systems, and norms that may not be in tune with the capabilities and demands of our current time. With any such complex system, there will be some who resist change because they reap rewards from the existing way of doing business. But ultimately, and as usual, it is those who adapt who can make a difference and they can lead the way. Change won’t happen overnight, but the size and challenges of the task should not deter us from striving to make our School, our clinics, our classrooms, and our communities a better place to work, to learn, and to care for others.

The ninth annual luncheon supporting the Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Depression Center last Friday, November 1, featured Olympic skier and CU Boulder graduate Jeremy Bloom as keynote speaker. Jeremy is a three-time world champion, two-time Olympian, and 11-time World Cup Gold Medalist in skiing. He is also the only person to ski in the Winter Olympics and be drafted into the National Football League. He was invited to speak at the Johnson Depression Center luncheon as the executive producer of “The Weight of Gold,” a film that takes an in-depth look at Olympic athletes and mental health. He explained that even successful athletes face depression and his goal is to shred the stigma related to the condition and asking for help. Jeremy offered a compelling testimony about the need to recognize mental health as we do other ailments and offer help, hope, and healing. We are grateful to all the luncheon sponsors, particularly Virginia and Scott Reiman, The Solich Fund, and The Wiegers Family Foundation. Also, special thanks to Tucker Shearn, a young volleyball player honored at the luncheon for his effort to raise funds for the Johnson Depression Center. He took up the cause after a teammate committed suicide. His effort raised more than $3,000.

The Global Down Syndrome Foundation held its Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Show on Tuesday, November 2, at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel. This year’s gala raised $2.5 million and during the past 11 years, Global has raised a total $20 million. More than 1,400 guests attended to raise life-saving and transformative funds for Down syndrome research and medical care. Celebrities joining in supporting the event included music legend Quincy Jones, actors Jamie Foxx, Henry Winkler, Laura Linney, Eric Dane, and John C. McGinley, and former Denver Bronco Terrell Davis. Michelle Sie Whitten, President and chief executive officer of Global described 2019 as a banner year thanks to a major increase in federal funding in research that should provide better understanding of the health of people with Down syndrome.

Matthew Wynia, MD, MPH, director of the Center for Bioethics and Humanities and professor of medicine at the CU School of Medicine, is the author of a Viewpoint article in JAMA, published online last week, about the ethical issues raised by a legal conflict over the Colorado End-of-Life Options Act. This summer, Centura Health dismissed a physician who was willing to prescribe an aid-in-dying prescription for a man with cancer. The case exposes how Colorado’s law differs from other states’ laws, in particular by not including provisions that allow organizations to sanction employed physicians for participating in assisted dying. Matt points out that the legal challenge to Colorado’s law was inevitable and that the case could have a significant effect on national policy.

Congratulations to Jennifer Wiler, MD, MBA, executive vice chair and professor of emergency medicine, who was named one of the 45 Under 45 Influencers in Emergency Medicine in the October/November issue of EM Resident Magazine. The 45 were selected from more than 400 applications. Jen was recognized for her service as the only emergency medicine physician on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services committee tasked with recommending physician-focused payment models and for her role as co-founder and executive director of UCHealth CARE Innovation Center.

Kenneth J. Hunt, MD, associate professor of orthopedics, the department’s vice chair for patient safety and outcomes, and director of School’s foot and ankle fellowship, has been named a member-at-large of the board of directors of the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society, the leading organization for lower extremity medicine and foot and ankle surgery.

Special thanks to the CU Medicine team and our colleagues at the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System for organizing a daylong symposium that will help bolster our affiliation. After several years when the VA was focused on the construction of its new hospital by the Anschutz Medical Campus and its transition to that space, the VA leadership team is focused on improving our partnership. The symposium was an opportunity to discuss research collaborations, billing and payment questions, educational opportunities, and legislative issues that affect all of us. Many thanks to Gail Albertson, MD, vice president and chief operating officer of CU Medicine, and Sandra Hallmark, director of the VHA Medical Sharing Affiliate Office, for leading the effort to organize the event.

CU Specialty Care at Highlands Ranch held an open house on Wednesday, October 30, to let community members know that the outstanding care provided by our faculty is now available in clinics that are closer to home for those who live and work in the southern suburbs of Denver. Tours of the clinics of CU Cancer Center, CU South Metro OBGYN, Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, CU 5280 OBGYN, and CU Head & Neck Specialists were available. Thank you to our dedicated faculty and staff who were available for these public tours.

The annual member meeting of the University of Colorado Medicine will be Wednesday, November 6, at 5 p.m. in the Krugman Conference Hall. All members are invited to attend.

Due to last week’s snow, Chancellor Don Elliman’s State of the Campus Address, which had been set for last Wednesday, October 30, has been rescheduled for Tuesday, November 19. Faculty, staff, and students are invited. An audience Q&A will follow the address.

Have a good week,

John J. Reilly, Jr., MD
Richard D. Krugman Endowed Chair
Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and
Dean, School of Medicine

The Dean’s weekly message is an email news bulletin from John J. Reilly, Jr., MD, Dean of the CU School of Medicine, that is distributed to inform University of Colorado School of Medicine faculty members, staff, students and others about issues pertaining to the School’s mission of education, research, clinical care and community service.  For clinical news and patient stories from UCHealth, please visit UCHealth Today

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