Mayo Clinic Approaches Resident Burnout Through Art

Mayo Clinic Resident Burnout

Burnout is a widely discussed topic within the medical community, affecting the lives of physicians, nurses and medical students alike. In extreme cases, when burnout goes unnoticed or untreated, it can even lead to suicide.

Considering the breadth of this ongoing topic of discussion, there isn’t much in the way of prevention itself. The need for preventative burnout strategies and alternatives have inspired many concerned and involved medical professionals and enthusiasts around the world (oftentimes medical students) to dive into innovating ways to prevent the tragedy of burnout from spreading and consuming students and physicians alike. 

Recommendations for medical students include the usual:

  • Invest in a diary
  • Make a Should Do & Could Do List
  • Schedule in Sweat Dates (scheduled gym workouts with friends)
  • Cut down on alcohol during party season (even go some days with no alcohol)

All great advice, however non-medical activity is proving to be a very effective way to refresh and rejuvenate yourself for the rigorous commitment of being a medical student. What else can students do to break up the monotony of research and studies (aside from the crazy party life) that could get you over the hump, and away from obsessing about the future you’re trying so hard to make a reality?

Perhaps the answer lies in one Florida Mayo Clinic hospitalist’s approach to burnout prevention activity.

“Then an epiphany came when I volunteered with a heart failure support group,” Dr. Odunukan said. “It wasn’t all lectures. … They had an instructor who taught people how to paint or make origami boxes. I had no background in either, but in 10 minutes I made the most beautiful box, and I had a sense of accomplishment.”

Inspired, Dr. Odunukan created a pilot project. The results of the program revealed that participating in just one hour of art class improved work-related motivation, and reduced fatigue among internal medicine residents, compared to their colleagues who participated in the usual noon conference. After his follow-up three-month study, results showed improved colleague-bonding, while meditation was more effective for lowering stress and fatigue.

Today Mayo Clinic’s internal medicine program has established a wellness committee – The Fellows’ and Residents’ Health and Wellness Initiative (FERHAWI) humanities program. They meet one Thursday a month in a noontime conference neatly named “Humanities Thursday” and includes riveting discussions of artwork, guided visual imagery and art projects, such as origami, screen printing and watercolor painting.

“It is a strong message that we don’t just care for patients but we have to care for ourselves,” Dr. Odunukan said. “It is just very reassuring to see an institution placing value on the wellness and well-being of residents.”

Joseph Bryant
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