Exploring family physician stress: helpful strategies
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OBJECTIVE: To explore the nature of professional stress and the strategies used by family physicians to deal with this stress. DESIGN: Qualitative study. SETTING: Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont. PARTICIPANTS: Ten key-informant family physicians. METHODS: In-depth interviews were conducted with key informants. A total of 40 key informants were identified, based on selected criteria; 24 provided consent. The potential participants were rank-ordered for interviews to provide maximum variation in age, sex, and years in practice. Interviews were conducted, audiotaped, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed until thematic saturation was reached, as determined through an iterative process. This occurred after 10 in-depth interviews. Immersion and crystallization techniques were used. MAIN FINDINGS: The participants described professional stresses and strategies at the personal, occupational, and health care system levels. Personal stressors included personality traits and the need to balance family and career, which were countered by biological, psychological, social, and spiritual strategies. Occupational stressors included challenging patients, high workload, time limitations, competency issues, challenges of documentation and practice management, and changing roles within the workplace. Occupational stressors were countered by strategies such as setting limits, participating in continuing medical education, soliciting support from colleagues and staff, making use of teams, improving patient-physician relationships, exploring new forms of remuneration, and scheduling appropriately. Stressors affecting the wider health care system included limited resources, imposed rules and regulations, lack of support from specialists, feeling undervalued, and financial concerns. CONCLUSION: Family physicians face a multitude of challenges at personal, occupational, and health care system levels. A systems approach provides a new framework in which proactive strategies can augment more than one level of a system and, in contrast, reactive strategies can have negative inputs for different system levels.
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