The pervasive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on physician staffing at hospitals pushed the Texas Medical Association House of Delegates last week to adopt new policy supporting a statewide post-pandemic research study to inform and help create a better state response to surges during extended catastrophic events.
Also recognizing the increasing impact of physician burnout, the house took up a measure aimed at early identification of the problem and its mental health effects, as well as a proposal to encourage physicians and medical students to get training on recognizing signs of suicide.
Without the need for debate, delegates readily accepted the Reference Committee on Medical Education and Health Care Quality’s recommendations to adopt an extensive report conducted by TMA’s Committee on Physician Distribution and Health Care Access. That study recognized that “the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in unprecedented demands for physician staffing at Texas hospitals.”
As a result of the report, voting physicians adopted new TMA policy that “supports a post-pandemic research study by the Texas Statewide Health Coordinating Council at the Texas Department of State Health Services, in conjunction with the state’s schools of public health on the success of methods used to meet staffing needs. It is recommended that the study include identification of the most effective methods employed by individual hospital systems in the state and that the study be used to inform state emergency preparedness agencies in amending state emergency preparedness plans to better enable the state to respond to surges in hospital physician staffing needs during future extended catastrophic events.”
Delegates also adopted policy aimed at preserving medical education, and residency and fellowship training during a pandemic or other extended catastrophic event.
Acknowledging there is no reference to physician burnout in TMA policy, voting physicians also took action to have TMA support “addressing, screening, and providing healthy coping mechanisms for burnout.” That will include looking at ways to define burnout, teach doctors how to recognize it, and encourage supportive services such as physician health and wellness programs.
A proposal to integrate suicide prevention programs into the curriculum of Texas medical schools became the focus of much of the live discussion on initiatives from the Reference Committee on Medical Education and Health Care Quality.
The original resolution was designed to train medical school students on suicide prevention. Ultimately delegates decided the measure should be expanded to focus on all physicians and adopted policy that “encourages all physicians and medical students to seek out training on de-escalation of mental health crises, including acute suicidal ideation and self-harm.”
In other medical education and quality matters that went undebated, delegates adopted TMA policies to:
- Renew efforts to increase racial and ethnic diversity among the Texas physician workforce;
- Support bias training for all Texas medical school students, resident physicians, staff, and faculty of academic health centers, and promotion of greater diversity in medicine; and
- Promote physician-led care teams and accurate understanding of requirements for physician training requirements versus those for advanced practice registered nurses.
The house also recognized the work of Charles Cowles, MD, chair of the Council on Medical Education and associate professor of anesthesiology and perioperative medicine at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Dr. Cowles died in December 2020 in a car accident.