By Emily Schott
From the onset of the pandemic, the Kentucky Medical Association (KMA) shifted its work to better serve the state’s thousands of physician members. The Association provided news updates, advocated for policy changes and helped educate the public on preventing the spread of COVID-19.
However, as the pandemic continued to rage later into the year, it became clear that navigating such a challenging time, compounded with the typical stressors involved in a high-pressure career, was taking a toll of the mental health of physicians.
In January, KMA and the Kentucky Foundation for Medical Care (KFMC) launched the “Be Well. Stay Well. Physician Health Program,” which provides up to six free visits with a licensed therapist for KMA physician members in rural areas of the state through The Woodland Group of Lexington. The visits are conducted remotely and kept completely confidential from anyone with KMA and the physician’s practice or employer. The Woodland Group manages the administrative aspects of confirming KMA membership and no report is provided to KMA that contains any physician’s name.
Be Well. Stay Well.
The program is made available to rural physicians because of the unique geographic limitations some may face in seeking such assistance.
“We wanted to provide this service to our physicians in rural areas for a number of reasons. There are certain challenges associated with practicing medicine in a rural area, and when you’re the only doctor or specialist in town, you may be less likely to seek out assistance if you feel that time away from the office might interfere with your patients’ care,” said KMA president Dale Toney, MD. Toney also pointed out that some urban areas, such as Lexington and Louisville, have similar programs available through their county medical societies.
Healing Medical Burnout
KFMC president Shawn Jones, an otolaryngologist from Paducah and author of Finding Heart in Art: A Surgeon’s Approach To Healing Modern Medical Burnout, emphasizes that feelings of stress and burnout are common and encourages his colleagues to reach out to programs like “Be Well. Stay Well.”
“There was a point in my journey as a physician where I recognized I needed professional help. I wanted an objective professional who could help me gain perspective and assist me in doing the personal work necessary,” Jones said, noting that The Woodland Group has extensive experience working with physicians.
With the one-year mark of the pandemic in the rearview and vaccination efforts ramping up, Toney underscores the importance of physicians taking time to focus on their own health and well-being.
“There’s an old saying that ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup.’ Physicians spend their careers helping others. I would encourage our state’s rural physicians to reach out for help through the ‘Be Well. Stay Well’ Program if they need it, so they can continue being the asset to patients and communities that they always have been, and particularly throughout the last year.”
For more information on the “Be Well. Stay Well. Physician Health Program,” visit kyma.org/bewellstaywellphp.
-Emily Schott is the communications director at the Kentucky Medical Association.