Welcome to the Evolution of Medicine podcast! On this episode, guest host Kristen Brokaw talks with Dr. Jarrod Spencer, a sports psychologist, speaker, author and consultant, about helping healthcare providers overcome burnout in their careers. Just like athletes must continuously work on their mindsets and remain focused to perform at the top level, healthcare providers must take steps to support their mental resilience. The problem is, 92% of healthcare providers report feeling burned-out in their careers, and the majority also admit they would never seek professional help. As Dr. Spencer discusses in this episode, it’s time to erase the stigma of mental health challenges in the healthcare profession and empower providers to overcome burnout and become the best versions of themselves. Enjoy this incredible conversation! Highlights include:

  • The striking similarities between athletes and healthcare providers
  • How we can give a voice to the topic of mental health in the healthcare profession, which has long been stigmatized
  • Steps healthcare providers can take to address burnout
  • The importance of building a supportive, engaged team
  • Why healthcare providers should consider consulting a psychologist to help keep their practices running smoothly
  • And so much more!

Resources mentioned in this podcast:

M.O.D.:  Who is Taking Care of You?

James Maskell:Hello, and welcome to the podcast. This week, we are sending it back over to Kristin Brokaw as our guest host on the Evolution of Medicine podcast, and she had an incredible conversation with Jarrod Spencer. The title is The Mind of the Doctor: Who is Taking Care of You? Love to get your feedback on the episode. Enjoy.

Kristen Brokaw: What do doctors and professional athletes have in common? Well, I discovered quite a bit actually. In my conversation with Dr. Jarrod Spencer, sports psychologist and author of Mind of the Athlete, he talks about how every sports team works with a sports psychologist. They’re always working on their mindset and getting their head clear. Yet physicians and clinicians, they don’t. In a 2018 questionnaire that was put out just to providers, they discovered 92% had burnout and of that 92%, 80% admitted that they would never seek professional help for that burnout. That’s crazy. Doctors are professionals and professional athletes are professionals, and they have so much in common, yet this key thing is potentially what’s keeping a lot of providers stuck.

As providers, you guys have so much that’s put on you. You really do need a trained professional to talk to more than you probably realize. Hopefully, this podcast will inspire you to do something about that. Your teams will also be affected and your patients. So definitely take a listen to this very eye-opening podcast. Hello, Dr. Jarrod Spencer. I’m here today and you are a sports psychologist and also an author of a book called Mind of the Athlete. Why would we have you on a medical podcast? Why don’t you tell us a little bit about how much similarities there are between athletes and providers or clinicians?

Jarrod Spencer: Physicians, providers tend to be overachievers, a little obsessive-compulsive personality marked by orderliness, perfectionism, control. Those are all wonderful things. They’re driven and they certainly value health and they love optimal performance. So when you stop and think about it, there are a lot of physicians out there that actually have come out of some type of a sports background. So the similarities between professional athletes and healthcare providers who have to perform under pressure, the similarities are immense. I love sharing the Mind of the Athlete concepts with the mind of the physician, mind of the provider.

Kristen Brokaw: Well, I’ve seen you do it actually. That’s one of those conferences of PLMI in Orlando a few years ago, you came on right after lunch and you got everybody so jazzed and energized. Do you remember what you talked about? What made you so spectacular that day? Because one of the doctors came up to me afterwards and said, “Okay, this was my favorite part of this entire conference.”

Jarrod Spencer: Well, I don’t think it’s me as a speaker. I really think it’s a topic. I spoke about how the mind works best for a physician. In that presentation, I really was addressing the elephant in the room, which is the mental health of providers and really giving a voice to something that people have long felt, but it’s still stigmatized in our country. Sure, mental health is getting some of its due. But when it comes to leaders mental health, physicians mental health, they’re the ones taking care of everybody else’s. But at the end of the day, who’s taking care of them and their mental health? So when I spoke into that topic, I looked out and I just saw a lot of eyes saying, you’re speaking to me right now, man. You might not know it and other people don’t know it, but the truth is you’re speaking to me right now. I could feel that in the room that day.

Kristen Brokaw: Yeah. You were bringing up things that nobody talks about, like handling the pressure of having patients coming to you with all their problems, managing staff, keeping an office up, knowing you’re the reason that the lights are on or the lights are off. So tell us a little bit more about that. What should they do about it? That’s a lot of pressure.

Jarrod Spencer: Well, now more than ever, it’s the emotional burnout of healthcare providers that I’m most concerned about. When a patient walks in, they essentially take their emotional stress and they transfer it onto the provider. They have been thinking about all the things they want to tell the provider. Then when the provider comes in the room, they get 10 or 15 minutes of this really emotional intensity. Anyone could sense it and feel it in the room. Then the provider has to manage that and then here’s a key, contain their own countertransference, we call it in psychology.

So somebody is going to transfer all this negativity. Then you’re going to have to try to contain that and then not counter-transfer something back and be snippy or dismissive or minimize. But you’ve got to offer a lot of empathy and validation and encouragement. So it’s hard to do that 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 times a day room to room, to room, to room, to room and not have patient number 17 impact patient number 23. But that’s really the trick for physicians is how do they begin to take care of their emotional health in a way that doesn’t just help them survive, but actually helps them thrive at a time when people really need that the most.

Kristen Brokaw: Okay. So how do they do that?

Jarrod Spencer: Well, I’m obviously a little bit biased, but I would say the very first thing is sleep. So we’ve got to get consistency of sleep. Obviously now post-pandemic or in pandemic, then afterwards people are going to certainly be making better progress with the sleep. That most people are doing pretty well. The outside in head knowledge, again, most intellectuals do a really good job listening to podcasts and all that stuff. But here’s the bottom line. I believe that every person, but particularly in this situation we’re talking about providers, should have a licensed psychologist that they work with where it’s legally protected, HIPAA laws. Whether it’s on your calendar, whether you need it or not, it’s there on the calendar and you go every week, every month, whatever it may be, but you have somebody that you can vent to and then process all of the stressors in your life.

Kristen Brokaw: Okay. So that’s obviously a good step one, go seek out professional help. These people are professionals, so professionals. I actually saw, I’m going to screw this up, but I saw a study, this was just last year, that said 80% of providers were depressed or notated that they would love to have someone to vent to. The same 80% said they would never go see anyone.

Jarrod Spencer: Yeah. Because part of it is, okay, yeah, Jarrod, I’m open to going to talk to somebody, but who? So what ends up happening is people aren’t necessarily against it, but you have to say all right, I know that guy, or I know that woman and I would speak to Jarrod. I would speak to Sue. I would speak to that person. So a lot of it is really the provider, the psychologist getting out there into the public where a physician might say, you know what? I like that person. I actually would feel comfortable. Now, the other part of it, too, is a lot of physicians, healthcare providers, they tend to be a little bit more financially successful maybe than others. They do want to go to a psychologist office that is a little bit nicer than others.

They do want privacy. They want discretion. They want to walk in the door. They don’t want to have anybody see them, one of their patients see them, walking in and out the door and they don’t want other clinicians, other counselors in there where they might. So it’s all about discreet and high-quality service. So when you think about it from that angle, it’s like, okay, just like treating a professional athlete, when you treat a physician or maybe a politician or maybe somebody else has got maybe a little bit notoriety in the community, they really are looking for more of a concierge kind of service and practice when it comes to psychology. That’s what’s different.

Kristen Brokaw: Well, with COVID, if that’s the one thing it’s taught us that I’m sure a lot of these doctors are doing virtual or experienced virtual in some way, shape or form. What would have them not be able to have an appointment virtually with someone who’s in say, California? You want to talk about discreet. It’s a possibility, right?

Jarrod Spencer: Well, it really is. Part of that is because the laws are changing. Obviously, telehealth was one of those things that’s really difficult. If you’re sitting in this state and somebody is in another state, which state do you have to have a license in? Can you be dispensing information? So obviously, there’s a lot of reform going on with that to make it more accessible for anybody around the country to be helping in maybe, of course, the states that they’re licensed in, but maybe in other states as well. So I do think that the last five months this pandemic, one of the best things that’s come out of it is that telehealth for counseling has been booming. Most people realize now, you know what, maybe that discretion I’m looking for, maybe I can work with the best person I could possibly find even if they’re not in my neighborhood. I could still work with them through electronics. So I believe that’s a barrier that’s been torn down and that’s a good thing.

Kristen Brokaw: Yeah. If that is the barrier, if discretion is the barrier, then yeah. So we’ve talked about going to see someone, but what’s something else they could do in the meantime for themselves in addition to sleeping and maybe talking to someone? Are there any other tools or things that you recommend to your athletes? I know you also work with executives.

Jarrod Spencer: Yeah. So I’m going to tell them, this is one of my favorite things that I personally do. I think it’s really great. So here’s a gem. For American physicians, the second and third week of January, not many people travel at all. It’s amazing how you can go anywhere. Things are a lot cheaper and there’s a lot more availability. So every January, second, third week, I try to get out of the country and get down the Caribbean. Why? Because when you work in America, you say I’m in Florida. People like, oh, well you can still return my text, call, and email.

When you say to somebody, I’m out of the country. Oh, okay. Okay. Now it’s a socially acceptable pass. Otherwise, people are still waiting on you and expecting you to respond even if you’re on vacation in the country. How pathetic is this? So getting away off the grid, I always tell people just like you and your spouse get away and go down there, blue sky, sunshine, and you can get the most amazing place for half the rates so it is more affordable. There’s hardly any people down there at that time. So here’s the whole point I’m trying to drive home.

If you are going to be taking care of other people, you got to take better care of yourself. One of the best ways you can do that is you literally got to get off the grid. No clients, no kids, off the grid, and just detach. If you’re not doing that at least once a month, let alone maybe once a quarter, then you need to be because that is absolutely why physicians and healthcare providers are burning out.

Kristen Brokaw: That’s so interesting that you say that, that just detaching. I had a provider say to me that one of her patients said you should really take Fridays off. A lot of providers are off on Fridays. She said she took Fridays off and she is more productive and her income went up. Isn’t that crazy? You would almost think no, but so you’re saying, all right, you’ve got to get a control-alt-delete. A reboot.

Jarrod Spencer: Yeah, absolutely. Recharge, reboot, rest, recovery. Obviously, I’m speaking to the choir now, but really this is absolutely vital in terms of longevity and avoiding the emotional toll. Now, think about this. If mental health is on the rise, which it is dramatically, pre-pandemic and now more than ever since the pandemic, and most of our medical conditions have an emotional strong component to that, stress for example, what we know is that our providers are not, in my opinion, are not well trained to not only deal with the mental health of the patients that they have to see, but the transference that’s coming on them and the slow drip, drip, drip, drip. How does that impact the person? That is what I’m most concerned about is the double-sided piece there of, yeah, you don’t really know how to treat them because there was not a whole lot of training stuff, in services or this or that, but it’s really most about, how are you doing, man? How are you really doing? Because this stuff impacts people significantly.

Kristen Brokaw: Yeah. Doctors, they’re successful or they want to seem successful. Everybody does. It’s not just doctors. Let’s talk about looking at, say, someone like Michael Jordan or Beyoncé or whatever person we admire who’s a solo act, let’s say. Think of all the people that are behind them. I’m wondering how much of your advice is behind asking for help. Maybe delegating or getting an assistant or something. When I bring that up to some doctors, it’s almost like they’ve never heard of the concept before.

Jarrod Spencer: Yeah. I always say who’s on your team? So obviously, I can’t reveal much at all about who I’m serving, what I’m doing, all that stuff, but I can just share with you that we read the newspaper here every day. We watch TV and watch sports and quite often I’m watching television and that’s an athlete, that’s a team, that’s a coach, that’s a person that I’ve helped in some way. So it’s really kind of exciting to know that, yeah, I’m the guy behind the scenes that quietly doesn’t exist, but I’m there and I’m really making a big impact. I think that’s really the fun part about sports psychology is that I am part of an amazing support staff of professionals that really help elite level athletes excel the highest that they possibly can. Why don’t we have the same thing for our physicians or providers? I believe that every provider should have somebody like me in their corner that they’re working with. Athletes are doing it, so why wouldn’t they?

Kristen Brokaw: So let’s talk about that. If the athletes are doing it, what do the athletes report is their biggest benefit? If you asked me and I would say, why would an athlete be working with a psychologist, sports psychologist? I might say so that they would get an edge up. But it sounds like it’s a lot deeper than that.

Jarrod Spencer: Well, it is. The quick answer is, what I give them is a clear mind. So my tagline is a clear mind leads to better performance. So the clearer your mind is, the better your performance is, whatever it is that you’re doing. So the opportunity to clear their mind with somebody is really a big deal. But the other part is that athletes are competitors and they’re always wanting to grow. They’re really lifelong learners that are looking to develop. So I think of one individual athlete who’s always like, “Hey, what do you got for me today? What do you got for me? Give me something. What do you got?” I love that because they’re always looking to better themselves. Coaches are like, “Hey, what book are you reading right now? What are you working through? What’s next?” I really like the idea of helping growth. So that’s really one of the biggest things that they receive is you can have intellectual IQ, but there’s your emotional IQ. Emotional intelligence is something that really is a hallmark of great leadership. So yeah, a lot of providers who are wonderful IQ, but their EQ, and that’s really where I try to help grow leaders because when you have a really effective EQ, and then SQ, spiritual intelligence, whatever that spiritual faith may be for that individual, when you get somebody that’s really sharpened their SQ, EQ, and IQ, that tends to be your most significant leaders.

Kristen Brokaw: It’s like a trifecta. So that actually brings me into my next question, which is the EQ of dealing with a team. You said being an effective leader. So they’ve got this team that they’re trying to lead and bring together and serve the patients. That’s got to be tough for doctors when they’ve got their own stuff going on. They come into work and then somebody is late and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So how can they effectively build a team?

Jarrod Spencer: Well, everyone knows who the alpha in the room is. You can’t hide that, but at the same time, I think it has to be operated like sports. So you got your head coach, got your assistant coaches. Michael Jordan wasn’t dominating the court then also calling the plays. Phil Jackson was really running the show there. So I think that we really need to look at that sports model a lot more because, if you’ve got a superstar physician out there who’s also trying to be the CEO of the company, I think those days are just over.

Kristen Brokaw: Yeah. That’s essentially what I was saying earlier is delegating, finding the assistant. Maybe you’ve got someone that isn’t that great of a team member, but it seems like more of a hassle to find somebody else. That probably can really be a poison for the team as well.

Jarrod Spencer: That’s amazing, because so many providers work so hard to develop the brand around their name and do everything and then you’re right. You make one bad hire and you get somebody that’s toxic or something happens and it can really have this significant ripple effect. So I understand. I can sit here on this podcast and preach these things and say these things and it sounds great. But in practicality, it’s complicated, it’s messy. Interpersonal dynamics are the things that stress people out the most. Stop and think about that for a second. So it’s always these complex interpersonal dynamics that we often have with colleagues, coworkers. Sometimes the patients are actually the easiest. It’s dealing with that very difficult person that we’ve got to work with that we can’t not work with. So what do we do about that? That is really where a psychologist can really help a provider as well.

Kristen Brokaw: So is there something that they could do about it? I’ve had other doctors say they’ve learned the hard way and had finally had to put together, this is what an ideal person who would work on our team would look like, and if you do these types of things or think this type of way, you would not be a fit. They finally had to go through this almost sheer vetting process of what we want and what we don’t want. Do you recommend doctors do things like that or do you have any maybe personality or strengths assessment recommendations?

Jarrod Spencer: Yeah. If you stop and think about it, they’re doing exactly what the NFL draft does when it says, okay, we’re going to try to find the best fit of personality in these amazing athletes and draft that person based upon the current dynamics of our team. Many companies and organizations are starting to say, well, we need to do the same thing. That being said, that’s a risky thing to do if one’s not doing it well, because personality assessments and trying to test somebody before they come in, who’s got the legal rights to see that? Is that test reliable and valid in a court of law? It’s messy. Here’s what I suggest. Here’s the positive, proactive thing I’m really preaching. I believe that every office, medical office, for example, just use that, should be operating like a professional team. They should have a sports psychologist or health psychologist or a psychologist that’s a consultant to them.

I think that every month there should be some lunch and learns where a psychologist is coming in and saying, I’m going to teach everybody today on how to manage anxiety. Then when I come back next month and we’re going to talk about depression or confidence or complex interpersonal dynamics or how to do better job with rest and recharge, self-care. But every single month, we should be putting the psychologist’s skills into the mental toolbox of our staff. Because if we can equip our staff positively, proactively with the knowledge and the skills, what we’re really doing is mitigating any future damages we’re going to have. We’re going to minimize the likelihood that a person’s going to leave, or there’s going to be a interpersonal dynamic between two people that leads to both people wanting to leave the job. Of course you have division. So why don’t we do that? Why don’t we have a consultant come in, and you can have a webinar even, but this is the stuff that we must be doing to equip and educate.

Kristen Brokaw: Yeah. I don’t know anyone that’s doing that. That would be stupendous.

Jarrod Spencer: People wouldn’t know this, but what professional sports team doesn’t have somebody doing that? Everyone’s got somebody doing that. Well, why? Well, why would we not? It’s an insurance policy. Why would we not do that? So I think mental health’s day has now come and everyone who’s listening to this is either going to start doing this and get out in front or they’ll do it in five years and it’ll just be standard expectations.

Kristen Brokaw: You bring up an excellent point of if doctors are invested in growth and a growth mindset and they want to be the best and they want to be a true pro, how is that any different than an athlete and an athletic team, because doctors are part of these teams and what team, as you ask, what team professional team doesn’t have this? There’s not one, you couldn’t find one. So it makes complete sense, just like you’re saying, for a professional office to be doing the same thing.

Jarrod Spencer: Yeah, absolutely. It’s no longer something that is valued for doing it. It’s really a disadvantage if you’re not doing it. So now the professional sports, you got to be doing it. I think that’s really where we’re going to be where we’re at and where we’re headed with medicine.

Kristen Brokaw: Yeah, absolutely. Well, thank you so much. How can people find you if they want to learn more about what it is that you do and even pick up a copy of your book?

Jarrod Spencer: Thanks. Yeah, I appreciate it. So mindoftheathlete.com and you can get the book right from the website. There are also on Amazon and just reach out to me. What I would say is it would be my pleasure to have a phone call just to say, you know what? Let’s just talk and chat and see if what I do would be the right fit. What I also tell people is that, man, psychologists are like shoes. If you get it the right shoe for the right person for the right activity, you’re going to get a lot of use out of that shoe, but not all shoes work for all people. Some just aren’t comfortable. Some people might like Adidas over Nike or Saucony. So it’s really about maybe I’m the guy that could really help you, or maybe I could help point you in the direction of somebody else that might be the best fit. But the bottom line is just like in a good pair of shoes, you go a long way, man. Definitely get a good psychologist in your corner. You’ll go a long way together.

Kristen Brokaw: Thank you so much, Dr. Spencer.

Jarrod Spencer: My pleasure.

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