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The Wellness Corner

Welcome to the first in a series of articles that the AATS Wellness Committee will publish in this column. The column will reflect thoughts, activities, and initiatives of the committee, which was established just prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The results of a large survey of our membership and attendees of our 2021 annual meeting on Wellness and Burnout have just been accepted for publication in Seminars in Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery. The results showed that we in the cardiothoracic community are just as burned out as those in other surgical specialties, and the pandemic has taken a toll on our sense of well-being. For the most part, we find ourselves depleted at a time when we are expected to be resilient and perform at the “top of our game,” as always. Previous research has shown that the effects of the pandemic on our lives and on our sense of well-being will likely last at least a couple more years. It has put a lot of strain on our workforce; and our survey showed that a number of cardiothoracic surgeons are considering early retirement due to the pandemic, worsening the projected shortfall of cardiothoracic surgeons in the near future.

We also took the opportunity to survey the significant others of our cardiovascular surgeons about their sense of well-being. The results, which will also be submitted for publication, are somewhat alarming; they are a call to action to change the culture of our specialty. We believe that it is possible to find the sweet spot between optimum performance at work as a surgeon and meaningful engagement and presence at home as a partner and parent. We owe that to ourselves. Improving performance in all aspects of our lives is central not just to our well-being, but also to that of our families.

Amid the bitter data on burnout, we did find a silver lining. Our surveys show that cardiothoracic surgeons still find great meaning in their work, most still find their work fulfilling; and the pandemic has given us opportunities to connect with each other in new, innovative ways. And while in the past, the focus of physician well-being has been on individual resilience there is now awareness that this is only one aspect of wellness. Emerging data in the wellness field show how our institutions can help foster a culture of wellness and improve our efficiency of practice. These two arms of professional fulfilment are not only the individual’s responsibility, but also that of our teams, our hospitals, and our institutions. To that end, the wellness agenda for the 2023 annual meeting focuses on this very topic.

In addition to this column, we are planning a series of webinars on topics in the well-being arena, which will be accessible to all members at any time. We hope you enjoy the upcoming columns, and we invite comments and ideas from our membership at any time.

Ross Bremner, MD, and the Wellness Committee

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