Academic Psychiatry

, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 94–108 | Cite as

What Do We Mean by Physician Wellness? A Systematic Review of Its Definition and Measurement

  • Keri J. S. Brady
  • Mickey T. Trockel
  • Christina T. Khan
  • Kristin S. Raj
  • Mary Lou Murphy
  • Bryan Bohman
  • Erica Frank
  • Alan K. Louie
  • Laura Weiss Roberts
In Depth Article: Systematic and Other Reviews



Physician wellness (well-being) is recognized for its intrinsic importance and impact on patient care, but it is a construct that lacks conceptual clarity. The authors conducted a systematic review to characterize the conceptualization of physician wellness in the literature by synthesizing definitions and measures used to operationalize the construct.


A total of 3057 references identified from PubMed, Web of Science, and a manual reference check were reviewed for studies that quantitatively assessed the “wellness” or “well-being” of physicians. Definitions of physician wellness were thematically synthesized. Measures of physician wellness were classified based on their dimensional, contextual, and valence attributes, and changes in the operationalization of physician wellness were assessed over time (1989–2015).


Only 14% of included papers (11/78) explicitly defined physician wellness. At least one measure of mental, social, physical, and integrated well-being was present in 89, 50, 49, and 37% of papers, respectively. The number of papers operationalizing physician wellness using integrated, general-life well-being measures (e.g., meaning in life) increased [X 2 = 5.08, p = 0.02] over time. Changes in measurement across mental, physical, and social domains remained stable over time.


Conceptualizations of physician wellness varied widely, with greatest emphasis on negative moods/emotions (e.g., burnout). Clarity and consensus regarding the conceptual definition of physician wellness is needed to advance the development of valid and reliable physician wellness measures, improve the consistency by which the construct is operationalized, and increase comparability of findings across studies. To guide future physician wellness assessments and interventions, the authors propose a holistic definition.


Physician wellness Physician well-being Physician burnout Conceptualization and measurement Review 



The authors are deeply grateful to Dennis L. Simmons for his assistance with data management, to Gabrielle Termuehlen for her assistance with copyediting, and to Katie Ryan for her assistance with manuscript preparation.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

IRB Information

IRB approval was not needed since all data were obtained from publicly available sources.


On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Funding Sources



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Copyright information

© Academic Psychiatry 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Keri J. S. Brady
    • 1
  • Mickey T. Trockel
    • 2
  • Christina T. Khan
    • 2
  • Kristin S. Raj
    • 2
  • Mary Lou Murphy
    • 2
  • Bryan Bohman
    • 2
  • Erica Frank
    • 3
  • Alan K. Louie
    • 2
  • Laura Weiss Roberts
    • 2
  1. 1.Boston University School of Public HealthBostonUSA
  2. 2.Stanford University School of MedicineStanfordUSA
  3. 3.University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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