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Physician Well-Being: The Real 5th Vital Sign

“The reason we should care about burnout is because it has the potential for serious consequences on the quality of patient care and safety, patient satisfaction, professionalism, physicians’ own care and safety, and the viability of the health care system,” Ohio State Medical Association (OSMA) president Evangeline Andarsio, MD, told Ohio Medicine in 2017.


In 2001 the Joint Commission declared that pain was being under treated, in part, because it was difficult for patients to convey to their physician exactly how much discomfort they were experiencing. That led to the advent of a new pain scale using a series of face from 0 to 10 – with zero being pain-free and smiling to 10 being intolerable pain and a face of anguish. This helped grow the thought that pain should be considered the fifth vital sign, right alongside heart rate, temperature, blood pressure and respiratory rate.

Perhaps the time has now come to introduce another vital sign, one that directly impacts patient care but can’t so easily be summed up with a series of caricature facial expressions: Physician Well-Being. Physicians are experiencing professional burnout at increasing rates, a troubling phenomenon because it is clear that to heal others, the health and well-being of the healers is too often overlooked.

Physician well-being has been an important issue for local, regional and national healthcare organizations for the past several years. Studies have shown that physician behaviors are aligned closely with servant leaders, or those individuals who put the needs of others at a higher priority than their own. Those with innate servant leadership traits select careers and vocations that focus on interests of the greater good and are often called to professions that heal, cure and help others.

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