Mount Sinai Department of Surgery Launches Program to Combat Burnout and Manage Stress Among Surgical Faculty, Trainees & Staff
Recognizing that burnout and stress have a negative impact on the personal and professional lives of faculty, staff, and trainees, as well as the quality of care that patients receive, the Mount Sinai Department of Surgery has launched the Stress Intervention Tools (SIT) program to help surgeons work through their emotions, reduce their anxiety, and manage crises.
Burnout has long been common among surgeons, but reports suggest that it has become more prevalent and acute during the COVID-19 pandemic. In its “2021 General Surgeon Lifestyle, Happiness & Burnout Report,” Medscape noted that the percentage of general surgeons who reported being happy outside of work declined from 84 percent to 67 percent. Furthermore, approximately 35 percent of general surgeons reported that they are burned out and depressed, and 83 percent of those experiencing burnout indicated they felt that way before the pandemic began. And six out of 10 general surgeons reported that burnout has had at least a moderate impact on their lives.
“Long before the pandemic hit, it became apparent to me we needed to have a strategy in place that would be more effective in helping our surgeons, trainees, and administrative staff to manage the stress they were experiencing due to increasing demands placed upon them,” said Michael L. Marin, MD, the Jacobson Professor of Surgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Surgeon-in-Chief of the Mount Sinai Health System. “Given that some people have a stigma about psychiatry, I cultivated the idea for a program led by a mindfulness trainer who could listen, talk through challenges, and equip our team with tools that enable them to address their internal strife and prevent crises from occurring.”
An innovative, holistic initiative, SIT meets people where they are, helping them build resilience, manage situations, work through emotions, and increase their sense of calmness and well-being through a range of interventions, including a seven-week mindfulness stress management course known as the Surgeon’s Seven, guest speaker presentations, and one-on-one sessions. Led by Jane Lodato, Chief of Wellness for the Department of Surgery, the program was developed in collaboration with Dr. Marin using research-based interventions. Ms. Lodato, a member of the second international cohort of the Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification Program sponsored by the University of California, Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, uses first-hand insights into the resilience required to manage fast-paced, high-stress environments she acquired through her previous experience in executive positions.
“There are many health care organizations offering mindfulness programs and other forms of support that are invaluable, but we believe that SIT takes a unique embedded approach to stress management that is proactive, integrated, and personalized,” said Ms. Lodato. “By offering one-on-one consultations on demand, we are able to provide them with specific practices that can be used to manage almost any situation as it unfolds without missing a beat. The more they practice using their awareness tools, the more they rewire their neural pathways, becoming mindful and less encumbered by the stressful situations we face each day. The goal is to help all learn to reduce stress, fatigue, or the sense of being overwhelmed in order to gain balance, confidence, and joy in work and in life.”
“From my perspective, the real value of SIT is that it helps improve interpersonal relationships, whether that is with my colleagues or my patients,” said Peter Faries, MD, Chief of Vascular Surgery, and Professor of Surgery, and Radiology, at Icahn Mount Sinai. “Through the one-on-one sessions in particular, I have gained more awareness not only of the factors that contribute to my own reactions to situations but those that influence the reactions of others. That increased understanding enables me to manage interactions and situations in a more empathetic and psychologically healthy way, which benefits everyone involved.”
The launch of the program reaffirms Mount Sinai’s longstanding commitment to enhancing the health and well-being of its faculty, staff, and trainees. Previous initiatives have included the Office of Well-Being and Resilience, which connects people with support services, and the Mount Sinai Center for Stress, Resilience and Personal Growth, which is addressing the psychosocial effects of COVID-19 on health care workers. Through these undertakings, Mount Sinai has set standards among health care centers for addressing burnout and stress, and SIT has the potential to build on that legacy.
“Based on the benefits we are seeing so far, I believe the program can have a meaningful impact on the professional and personal quality of life for people who work in health care even in a post-COVID-19 setting because the ability to more effectively manage emotions, anxiety, and stress will always have value,” Dr. Marin said. “Our goal now is to gather more data on the program’s effectiveness to see how we can grow and improve it and then we can start to share it with other specialties and health systems.”
About the Mount Sinai Health System
The Mount Sinai Health System is New York City's largest academic medical system, encompassing eight hospitals, a leading medical school, and a vast network of ambulatory practices throughout the greater New York region. Mount Sinai is a national and international source of unrivaled education, translational research and discovery, and collaborative clinical leadership ensuring that we deliver the highest quality care—from prevention to treatment of the most serious and complex human diseases. The Health System includes more than 7,200 physicians and features a robust and continually expanding network of multispecialty services, including more than 400 ambulatory practice locations throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, and Long Island. The Mount Sinai Hospital is ranked No. 14 on U.S. News & World Report's "Honor Roll" of the Top 20 Best Hospitals in the country and the Icahn School of Medicine as one of the Top 20 Best Medical Schools in country. Mount Sinai Health System hospitals are consistently ranked regionally by specialty and our physicians in the top 1% of all physicians nationally by U.S. News & World Report.