What Do We Mean by Physician Wellness? A Systematic Review of Its Definition and Measurement

Acad Psychiatry. 2018 Feb;42(1):94-108. doi: 10.1007/s40596-017-0781-6. Epub 2017 Sep 14.

Abstract

Objective: Physician wellness (well-being) is recognized for its intrinsic importance and impact on patient care, but it is a construct that lacks conceptual clarity. The authors conducted a systematic review to characterize the conceptualization of physician wellness in the literature by synthesizing definitions and measures used to operationalize the construct.

Methods: A total of 3057 references identified from PubMed, Web of Science, and a manual reference check were reviewed for studies that quantitatively assessed the "wellness" or "well-being" of physicians. Definitions of physician wellness were thematically synthesized. Measures of physician wellness were classified based on their dimensional, contextual, and valence attributes, and changes in the operationalization of physician wellness were assessed over time (1989-2015).

Results: Only 14% of included papers (11/78) explicitly defined physician wellness. At least one measure of mental, social, physical, and integrated well-being was present in 89, 50, 49, and 37% of papers, respectively. The number of papers operationalizing physician wellness using integrated, general-life well-being measures (e.g., meaning in life) increased [X 2 = 5.08, p = 0.02] over time. Changes in measurement across mental, physical, and social domains remained stable over time.

Conclusions: Conceptualizations of physician wellness varied widely, with greatest emphasis on negative moods/emotions (e.g., burnout). Clarity and consensus regarding the conceptual definition of physician wellness is needed to advance the development of valid and reliable physician wellness measures, improve the consistency by which the construct is operationalized, and increase comparability of findings across studies. To guide future physician wellness assessments and interventions, the authors propose a holistic definition.

Keywords: Conceptualization and measurement; Physician burnout; Physician well-being; Physician wellness; Review.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Burnout, Professional / prevention & control*
  • Burnout, Professional / psychology
  • Humans
  • Job Satisfaction*
  • Mental Health*
  • Physicians / psychology*