Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 34, Issue 7, pp 1251–1257 | Cite as

Transdisciplinary Strategies for Physician Wellness: Qualitative Insights from Diverse Fields

  • Rachel SchwartzEmail author
  • Marie C. Haverfield
  • Cati Brown-Johnson
  • Amrapali Maitra
  • Aaron Tierney
  • Shreyas Bharadwaj
  • Jonathan G. Shaw
  • Farzad Azimpour
  • Sonoo Thadaney Israni
  • Abraham Verghese
  • Donna M. Zulman
Original Research



While barriers to physician wellness have been well detailed, concrete solutions are lacking.


We looked to professionals across diverse fields whose work requires engagement and interpersonal connection with clients. The goal was to identify effective strategies from non-medical fields that could be applied to preserve physician wellness.


We conducted semi-structured interviews with 30 professionals outside the field of clinical medicine whose work involves fostering effective connections with individuals.


Professionals from diverse professions, including the protective services (e.g., police officer, firefighter), business/finance (e.g., restaurateur, salesperson), management (e.g., CEO, school principal), education, art/design/entertainment (e.g., professional musician, documentary filmmaker), community/social services (e.g., social worker, chaplain), and personal care/services (e.g., massage therapist, yoga instructor).


Interviews covered strategies that professionals use to initiate and maintain relationships, practices that cultivate professional fulfillment and preserve wellness, and techniques that facilitate emotional presence during interactions. Data were coded using an inductive thematic analysis approach.

Key Results

Professionals identified self-care strategies at both institutional and individual levels that support wellness. Institutional-level strategies include scheduling that allows for self-care, protected time to connect with colleagues, and leadership support for debriefing after traumatic events. Individual strategies include emotionally protective distancing techniques and engagement in a bidirectional exchange that is central to interpersonal connection and professional fulfillment.


In this exploratory study, the purposive sampling technique and single representative per occupation could limit the generalizability of findings.


Across diverse fields, professionals employ common institutional and personal wellness strategies that facilitate meaningful engagement, support collegiality, and encourage processing after intense events. The transdisciplinary nature of these wellness strategies highlights universal underpinnings that support wellbeing in those engaging in people-oriented professions.


doctor-patient relationships medical humanities professional burnout physician satisfaction qualitative research 


Author Contributions

The authors would like to acknowledge the 30 study participants who generously shared their time and insights for this study. We would also like to thank Dani Zionts, who conducted some of the interviews, and Alan Glaseroff, who assisted with study recruitment.


This study was funded by a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Postdoctoral fellowship support for Marie Haverfield and Rachel Schwartz was provided by the Palo Alto VA Center for Innovation to Implementation.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Farzad Azimpour is the Chief Medical Officer at MYIA Labs and Health Portfolio Advisor at IDEO. Abraham Verghese receives royalties from Simon and Schuster and Random House publishers and is on the Gilead Health Policy Advisory Board, and the Leigh Speakers Bureau. The other authors report no conflicts of interest.

Supplementary material

11606_2019_4913_MOESM1_ESM.docx (20 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 19.8 kb)


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine (This is a U.S. government work and not under copyright protection in the U.S.; foreign copyright protection may apply) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rachel Schwartz
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Marie C. Haverfield
    • 1
    • 2
  • Cati Brown-Johnson
    • 3
  • Amrapali Maitra
    • 4
  • Aaron Tierney
    • 2
    • 5
  • Shreyas Bharadwaj
    • 6
  • Jonathan G. Shaw
    • 5
  • Farzad Azimpour
    • 7
  • Sonoo Thadaney Israni
    • 8
  • Abraham Verghese
    • 8
  • Donna M. Zulman
    • 2
    • 5
  1. 1.Center for Health Policy and Center for Primary Care and Outcomes ResearchStanford University School of MedicineStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Center for Innovation to Implementation (Ci2i)VA Palo Alto Health Care SystemMenlo ParkUSA
  3. 3.Evaluation Sciences UnitStanford University School of MedicineStanfordUSA
  4. 4.Brigham and Women’s HospitalHarvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  5. 5.Division of Primary Care and Population HealthStanford University School of MedicineStanfordUSA
  6. 6.Stanford Prevention Research CenterStanford University School of MedicineStanfordUSA
  7. 7.Stanford University School of MedicineStanfordUSA
  8. 8.Presence Center, Department of Medicine, Stanford UniversityStanford University School of MedicineStanfordUSA

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