Physician well being and quality of patient care: an exploratory study of the missing link

Psychol Health Med. 2009 Oct;14(5):545-52. doi: 10.1080/13548500903012871.


The goal of this article is to explore physicians' perceptions of their colleagues' awareness of the link between physician wellness and the quality of care they provide to their patients. In addition, we also examine potential factors that may be related to physicians' recognition or lack of recognition of this link. We rely on qualitative interview data from a sample of 42 physicians representing the spectrum of different medical specialties and work settings in a single health region in Western Canada. Our findings suggest that many physicians believe the link between physicians' well being and the quality of care they provide their patients is not necessarily at the forefront of most doctors' awareness as they practice medicine on a day-to-day basis. Our study participants identified a number of factors that may explain this finding and that reflect two broad themes: the culture of medicine and physicians' overwhelming workload. In regards to the culture of medicine, the physicians in our study reported how doctors view themselves as invincible caregivers first and foremost who must look after others before looking after themselves, who believe they do not need help from others and who are highly committed to their patients, careers and sense of professionalism. In regards to physicians' workloads, our study participants identified external pressures in the workplace in terms of how their busy schedules and the overwhelming nature of their work are significant deterrents that often prevent them from thinking about their own wellness. We discuss how the culture of medicine and physicians' workloads deter doctors from recognizing signs of unwellness and caring for themselves. We conclude that not only individual physicians, but also their peers, their patients, employing organizations and the health care system must appreciate and support physicians in their efforts to protect and maintain their personal well being.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alberta
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Care*
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Quality of Health Care*
  • Stress, Psychological