Guest Blog: Live Well - One County Medical Society Opening A Path to Wellness

Guest Blog: Live Well Program

As part of PRMS’ ongoing commitment to mental health, we are pleased to feature Tarak Vasavada, MD, secretary of the Indo-American Psychiatric Association and Director of the Live Well program at Madison County Medical Society in Alabama. Dr. Vasavada shares more about mental health among physicians and how an initiative he helped create, the Live Well program, can prevent physician burnout and promote wellness.

Located in North Alabama, Madison County, Alabama is home to NASA, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, and the Redstone Arsenal military base. Madison County Medical Society (MCMS) is a very active group with over 750 physicians.

In 2017, after several physician suicides in our community, the MCMS set out to create a physician's wellness program modeled on successful programs at other county medical societies throughout the country.  Our goal was to address the needs of our members by providing activities and events that foster personal wellbeing.  Additionally, we planned to offer complimentary physician counseling and coaching services.

Physician leaders and MCMS staff met with local hospitals, malpractice insurance carriers, and health insurance carriers to seek funding to launch the program. We realized that the most significant barriers to physicians seeking help are often fear of stigma and losing their license. We also knew that physicians tended to seek help to a lesser degree and at a later stage than other professional groups.  

We launched our initiative as the Physicians Resource Network – PRN – and hosted our first event for over 300 attendees, "Burnout Proof LIVE," with guest speaker Dike Drummond, MD, in February 2018.  This event opened the door to more conversation and increased funding, and so in June of 2018, MCMS was able to launch its physician counseling services.  With funding secured, we contracted with four doctorate-level therapists, including two counselors, one nurse practitioner with mental health training, and one psychiatrist, to provide up to three complimentary sessions per calendar year to benefit our members. This program has encouraged members to seek initial counseling without billing their insurance. We also added career coaching services. On the day after the launch, our first physician reached out and asked if they could get an appointment that day. Another called the following week. Utilization began slowly but has steadily increased.

MCMS committed to including wellness-themed language/activities into everything that we presented and adding a wellness component to all our events to make the language of self-care more natural to our physicians. Our 2019 event, “Stress and Burnout: Going the Distance”, with Mayo Clinic physician Edward Creagan, MD, saw 139 attendees. We followed up this program with Physician Appreciation Pop-Ups, where we took our message to the physicians and set up displays in hospital lounges. Our goal was to ensure that our members learned more about our wellness program designed to help prevent physician burnout. MCMS had a wonderful time saying “thank you” to our physicians for what they do for our community. 

Also, in 2019 our program was rebranded as the LIVE WELL initiative. In addition, we have formed the Live Well Foundation to fully support the Society's efforts. 

MCMS's Live Well has offered lectures including “Compassion Fatigue”, “Self-Care”, and “Stress Reduction for the Holidays”. Our February 2020 event, "Docs Night Out," attracted 200+ attendees. Keynote speaker Dr. Sandra Frazier, UAB Medical Director and Assistant Dean of Professional Development, spoke to the crowd after entertainment by the Three Waiters. 

Last fall, the Society distributed an AMA survey on wellness, and results showed that in addition to being stressed, many members had had thoughts of quitting work or ending their lives. In response, we distributed additional information on our free, confidential counseling and career coaching services. We hosted a Mindfulness course earlier this year, and MCMS has added a staff member who helps us grow our program. We've also added Wellness Wednesday social media posts and a Talk About It Tuesday email blast. I write a biweekly newsletter about wellbeing and summarize some of the journal and web articles for these emails, and we share vetted podcasts.  Recently, we began a book club series called “Better Me, Better Medicine," which started with “The Quality of Life Inventory” assessment written by Michael B. Frisch, Ph.D., as well as the book, Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by John Gottman, Ph.D., and Nan Silver, with a focus on not just marriage, but all relationships. 

More than 1,000 physicians have participated in our programs to date. Event attendees have noted in follow-up surveys that being encouraged to be intentional about self-care in face-to-face encounters has positively impacted their mental health. Successive presidents and Board of Trustees members have shown commitment to making this program thrive and grow. As quoted by the current MCMS President, Dr. Aruna Arora, "One bright light to this pandemic is that our personal lives have been forced to slow down. With that, we have been gifted with time to make more intentional choices, like remembering activities to prioritize self-compassion and self-care. There is tremendous value in medical organizations like the Madison County Medical Society, which can provide a safe space of peer-to-peer support."  

We realize that the after-effect of the pandemic on frontline health care workers will be ruthless. Our county is ready to acknowledge it and provide help for our physicians.

Dr. Tarak Vasavada


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