Healthcare Professional Burnout and Resilience

Dr. Ed Spilg talks Professional Resilience and Compassionate Care

AMS would like to introduce you to our new 2016 Phoenix Fellow, Dr. Edward Spilg. Ed is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine (Division of Geriatric Medicine), Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa. He is the Department of Medicine Vice Chair for Physician Health and Wellness as well as a Senior Clinician Investigator (Clinical Epidemiology Program) with the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.


We asked Ed a few questions to get a better understanding of what brought him to healthcare, why he values compassionate care and the work that AMS Fellows are doing and why he wanted to be involved. Here is what he had to say.

Q. Why did you decide to become a healthcare professional?

“I had wanted to be a physician from my early teens. I started medical school at age 17 and qualified at 21. I was always fascinated by the biomedical sciences and medical school allowed me to start to translate that knowledge from the lab to the clinical environment.  From the first exposure I had to clinical medicine, I knew that was the area I wanted to pursue, using my new found clinical knowledge to help people and to try to make a difference to their lives.”

Q. What was the catalyst for your interest in compassion in healthcare?

“I found my passion in Geriatric Medicine. Being a physician to some of the frailest and most vulnerable people is a privilege and it was through that I discovered not only how to deliver patient-centred compassionate care but I also developed an interest in medical education and clinical leadership. I realized that change can only be brought about through a knowledge of how physicians learn, an understanding of the healthcare environment in which they practice and an insight into the theory and practice of leading organizational change.”

Q. How were you introduced to the Phoenix Program?

“By chance really.  I am a relative newcomer to Canada.  I trained and worked within NHS Scotland, working as a Consultant Geriatrician until my move to Ottawa in January 2015 to pursue more academic interests.  Formerly as Associate Postgraduate Dean in the West of Scotland for Doctors in Difficulty, I saw first hand the devastating effects physician burnout can have on a young physician’s personal and professional life. I also became interested in the interrelationship that this has on the delivery of care to patients.  While in Canada, I began to study empathy and resilience and wanted to understand more about the way they are moderated by burnout and vice versa.  I was actively looking for opportunities to allow me to expand my scholarship in this area when, Dr. Pippa Hall, AMS Phoenix Fellow 2015, through her mentorship, sent me an email about a call for applications for the AMS Phoenix Fellowship 2016.  Fortunately, my application was successful.”

Q. What inspired you to apply for a Fellowship?

“Throughout my career, I have actively sought out opportunities to enhance and develop myself professionally.  I started my Masters in Clinical Leadership degree 18 years after graduating from Medical School. Seven years later I immigrated to Canada with my family, probably the scariest and most exciting thing I have ever done. The opportunity to apply for a fellowship was an ideal way to embrace scholarship in Canada and study in depth an area about which I am becoming increasingly passionate.”

Q. What value does being an AMS Fellow bring to you professionally?

“Becoming part of such an inspirational community of practice so early in my Canadian journey has been amazing, and this is just the beginning!  I see this, hopefully, as just the start of many other such opportunities.”

Q. What one little thing could we do to make our healthcare system more compassionate?

“Caring for someone involves just that – genuine, honest and compassionate care; the patient’s perception of that act is at the very foundation of the doctor-patient relationship.”

Q. Have you ever been given advice by a patient that changed the way you practice medicine?

“Yes! “Don’t forget to go home to your family”.  I really try to focus on my own wellness and remind myself of the importance of keeping a healthy balance.  Sometimes, however, it’s easier said than done!”

Q. What advice do you have for healthcare professionals to avoid/overcome compassion fatigue and burnout?

“Sometimes we forget to care for ourselves, and our colleagues, when we care for our patients.  We get caught up in the moment.  How can we avoid burnout?  I believe emotion regulation may play a key role but perhaps I should answer this after I’ve completed my fellowship project (which incidentally happens to be about physician burnout, its relationship to empathy and the role of resilience building through communities of practice and understanding the role professional identity formation and change plays in modifying the culture of medicine and shaping a culture of empathy).”

About the author

Dr. Edward Spilg
  • AffiliationUniversity of Ottawa

Dr. Spilg is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Geriatric Medicine and the Department of Medicine Vice Chair, Physician Health and Wellness with The Ottawa Hospital

Learn More about this Author

One thought on “Dr. Ed Spilg talks Professional Resilience and Compassionate Care

  • I googled “compassionate doctor canada”……it led me to this after three pages of hits about cannabis and compassion.
    Compassion seems to be a study in medicine. We get compassion in a palliative setting, but it’s not really compassion. It is and always will be an end result of control.
    I as a patient realize after much search that law and medicine is ultimately about control. The so called compassion goes only so far.
    I am not looking for a god like hand holding, no ‘comforting’ arm around my shoulder.
    I am not two, but an adult. In fact you should not even treat a two year old in that paternal manner.
    There are no heroes in law or medicine. It is simply a lottery of if and how and when you are able to evoke genuine connection.
    Even the doctor is not aware that he simply responds to certain patients so it is a come and go compassion. He gives himself the power to decide who he will have ‘compassion’ ‘over’.
    And possibly, one is lucky not to get any, since it is still about control.
    It is a very broken system because of traits of power seeking. After all, you can never ever let that patient have total control or autonomy, lest they manipulate you and your compassion.

    Oh my “this person sounds very bitter and angry” …….better chart that. Of course, that observation or opinion marked in charts will not result in any harm. Forever the ethical innocent.
    Granted, to try and live a duality is not easy, it is not even possible.
    You either are or are not. Sitting on a fence when the going gets tough is not an option.
    Do I have compassion? To a point, but I admit that. I have compassion for those who are powerless and vulnerable, but I am not silent about it, even in the face of adversity and opposite opinion.
    I am not here to decide whether that certain person qualifies for my sanctimonious gift bestowing of ‘compassion’. I cannot have compassion for you if your compassion is simply a tool.
    Let’s face it. The ‘talk’ of compassion and empathy and integrity keep popping up. There are studies on what exactly it looks like or is. Why is that? I think that when we talk the talk, right there is the problem. When we continue to talk about the same thing over and over, it is avoiding the real issue. It is avoiding of how to be or what to do. The ‘talk’ is nothing more than a psychological hiding spot.
    Control and power are the real issue, but that issue cannot be brought to the forefront. We all need jobs.

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