The look and feel of resilience: A qualitative study of physicians’ perspectives

Alicia J Polachek, Jean E Wallace, Mamta Gautam, Jill A de Grood, Jane B Lemaire


Some physicians can effectively cope and thrive in the face of potentially stressful job conditions, while others experience serious, negative consequences. This ability to be resilient may improve physician wellness and benefit health care organizations, yet little is known about what resilience means to physicians. This paper explores how physicians understand resilience both as they observe it in their colleagues and as they experience it themselves. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 32 physicians practicing in Alberta, Canada. Two questions explored physicians’ experiences of resilience or non-resilience, while two other questions considered what they observed in physician colleagues. Interview transcripts were independently coded by two authors and discussed to ensure agreement on the key themes. There were several similarities in how physicians described resilience or non-resilience in themselves and their colleagues related to control, positivity or negativity, boundaries and balance, coping, and support. There were also important differences in how physicians described their own experiences and their observations of colleagues. Participants’ portrayals of themselves suggested being immune to stress and responsible for their success or failure in being resilient. Their depictions of colleagues, however, focused on professionalism, work performance, commitment to values, and experience or wisdom. There appears to be a difference in how physicians understand resilience in themselves compared to what they observe in their colleagues. Specifically, physicians may hold unrealistic and unachievable expectations for their own resilience. Initiatives aimed at improving physician resilience and wellness may be best served by raising awareness about more realistic expectations and self-appraisals.

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Journal of Hospital Administration

ISSN 1927-6990(Print)   ISSN 1927-7008(Online)

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