Wellness Matters

Sarah Webber, MD, an assistant professor in the Division of Hospital Medicine, believes that physician well-being is integral to a thriving health care system.

Having navigated her own journey through burnout, she now explores the science of well-being both personally and professionally, and advocates for it across the department and institution—and, most recently, at the national level.

Selected for a National Women’s Wellness Initiative

In 2018, Dr. Webber applied and was one of three pediatricians nationwide chosen to participate in the first 18-member cohort of the Women’s Wellness through Equity and Leadership project (WEL).

This multidisciplinary initiative brings together early- to mid-career female physicians to explore wellness, equity and leadership issues. It’s led by representatives of these six major medical organizations:

  • American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP);
  • American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP);
  • American College of Physicians (ACP);
  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG);
  • American Psychiatric Association (APA); and
  • American Hospital Association (AHA).

One part of the WEL project will focus on identifying the incidence and causes for burnout in female physicians and determining evidence-based interventions to address it at every stage of professional development, work setting and specialty.

In 2018, 50.9 percent of U.S. medical school applicants were women, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges. However, in 2019, a higher percent of female physicians (50 percent) reported burnout, compared with 39 percent of male physicians, according to a Medscape National Physician Burnout, Depression & Suicide Report.

“What’s great about this project is that we are working together to catalyze our energy and connections to improve wellness for women in medicine,” Dr. Webber notes.

Personal Connection, Professional Motivation

The issue of physician well-being has personal roots for Dr. Webber. She recalls a day earlier in her career when she was watching a webinar on physician burnout—and saw herself in it.

Although she hadn’t completely acknowledged it, at the time, she was overwhelmed by the simultaneous demands of work and parenthood, and despite having wanted to be a physician since childhood, had begun considering alternate careers.

“Fortunately, I had great mentors in the department,” she shares. “They encouraged me to slow down and think about what was really important.”

She also began exploring research on well-being and discovered common ground when talking to colleagues about it. The issue became a new source of motivation.

“I didn’t want conversations about well-being to be a secret,” she says. “Instead, I wanted to bring the issues out into the open, and find pathways for improvement.”

How to Learn More

To build on this foundational work and national momentum to improve physician well-being, the Department of Pediatrics has since formed a committee, which Dr. Webber leads, to address the issue at the department level.

Areas of focus include improving work-life conflict, managing electronic health record documentation time, improving organizational communication and rethinking the culture of meetings.

Their work dovetails with that of the UW Health Provider Well-being Committee, and the UW School of Medicine and Public Health’s Equity, Inclusion and Engagement Committee. Dr. Webber has been the department representative on both since their inception.

To learn more about Dr. Webber’s work and the work of the committees upon which she serves, visit:

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