Joint Collaborative Committees

How a simple thank you can increase physician team wellbeing

In recent years, the well-being of physicians and other health care workers has been a major talking point on a global scale, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic created unprecedented pressures on morale and overall health. High staff turnover in health care settings, moral injury, and compounded exhaustion created difficulties for doctors already feeling the strain—and thoughts quickly turned to ways to make positive changes.

In 2021, the Medical Staff Society (MSS) at the East Kootenay Regional Hospital in Cranbrook came up with a simple and effective way to build solid relationships, boost physician wellbeing, and create strong bonds in their workplace. A brief survey during their virtual AGM in 2021 saw physicians mention how positive acknowledgement made their days and working lives more meaningful. From this feedback, the Kudos Project was born. Dr Lori Wik, a general internist at the hospital, VP of the MSS, and Chair of the FEI project working group, said it came down to one word: “appreciation”.

When the project first launched, its resounding success saw physicians write and receive 200 Kudos in the first month alone. “There was an outpouring of appreciation. We had to do an emergency printing of more pads,” Wik noted. Jill Bain, the Society’s Project Manager, says that the number of Kudos that physicians send is consistent at approximately 25-30 per month, and these simple acts of kindness are creating a “ripple effect” of positivity throughout the hospital. The hospital café manager’s enthusiasm for the initiative saw the Society buy her a gift to express their thanks, and while the project is limited to physicians for now, many doctors are sharing their Kudos treat vouchers with nurses, hospital security, and other staff. 

Sociological research consistently demonstrates that something as simple as recognition and appreciation from others has an outsize impact on our well-being as individuals, and as a community. Often, doctors can feel exhausted and burned out from expending their energy on delivering the best care to their patients—by taking the time to write a few words of gratitude to a colleague, the EKRH physicians are building an environment where they recognize each other’s achievements, kindness, and crucially—their humanity.

With this concept in mind, the team entertained the idea of an app, but considered the time constraints faced by physicians, as well as digital fatigue, so went for an old-school pen and paper approach. The Kudos are notes of gratitude printed on colourful pads of paper resembling prescription pads. They include checkboxes, and a comment section where one colleague can appreciate another and tell them why. Dr Wik says that she has sent notes about everything from appreciating chats with a colleague at the nurses’ station, to recognizing a physician team member who unraveled a complex diagnosis.  These slips are placed in the receiving colleagues’ mailbox and recipients can then redeem it at the hospital café for a free treat. Once a month, every physician who sends a note is entered into a draw for a dinner at a local restaurant. 

Dr Wik mentioned that when she received her pin for ten years of service, it was the personal letter from the hospital’s Chief of Staff that most resonated with her—and the Kudos Project is a way to foster this sense of positivity for the entire hospital community. Bain added that the project is easily replicable across other sites and health authorities, and creates major benefits, all while being cost-effective. The group hopes to continue on their relationship-building path, and is excited for the future of this project.