Health Care Heroes 2019 Health Care Education winner: Dr. Michael Epter

With a career working in emergency rooms, Dr. Michael Epter, director of the Emergency Medicine Residency at Maricopa Integrated Health System, understands the thrill of the job. “There are not many professions in medicine that you can be on the…

Health Care Heroes 2019 Health Care Education winner: Dr. Michael Epter

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With a career working in emergency rooms, Dr. Michael Epter, director of the Emergency Medicine Residency at Maricopa Integrated Health System, understands the thrill of the job.

“There are not many professions in medicine that you can be on the front lines of potential disaster and illness — emergency medicine is one of them,” Epter said. “In addition, there is the chance to be exposed to a different patient/chief complaint every time that you pick up the next chart. This is challenging but also exhilarating.”

At the same time, Epter knows ER doctors are more prone to burnout. As as result, Epter has emerged as a national voice on combating the burnout epidemic taking a heavy toll on emergency department physicians. According to recent research, three-fourths of emergency department residents are experiencing symptoms of burnout that could spiral into physician suicide.

In response, the Council of Residency Directors Board of Directors named Epter to lead a national initiative as head of the organization’s Emergency Medicine Physician Wellness and Resilience Working Group.

“Having been through what I have, if I can help someone else in getting through a period of losing their willingness and ability to share feelings and experiences, or someone becoming progressively more emotionally withdrawn by drawing on the lessons I learned, then perfect — I have reached a goal of paying it forward and assisting others,” Epter said.

Epter has pioneered a residency wellness curriculum at MIHS that includes having a psychologist speak with the residents each month, leading a discussion on wellness/resilience, and creating a forum for residents to discuss harm, medical errors, inadequacy and loss of control.

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“The ability to play a small role in the training of numerous individuals in medicine has been an amazing privilege, he said. “While it is a goal for providers to perform at high levels, this should never be at the expense of well-being. Providers heal only when they are healthy themselves.

One challenge that adds stress to emergency department doctors is overcrowding, a result of having to do more with fewer resources.

While seen as a boon to efficiency in the health care field, computerization also may be playing a role on physician burnout as practioners become more disconnected with their patients.

“One of the greatest ‘satisfiers’ in medicine is the dynamic relationship between the patient and provider,” Epter said. “With the advent of the electronic medical record, I have found that this has had an unforeseen negative effect on that relationship.

“We are better providers when we have the ability to have the patient feel that there is a palpable level of empathy in their management. To understand the states of mind, beliefs and emotions is the key to any patient interaction and markedly changes the perspective of the evaluation — and also helps to prevent provider burnout.”

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