The Effect of Physician Well-Being on Patient Interactions

May 24, 2017

By Tom Janisse, MD


What do physicians do to most satisfy their patients? And how do they maintain a state of well-being in their clinical practice? The answers to these questions and others have unfolded over several years in a series of confidential interviews I’ve done with physicians who rate highest on the post-visit patient satisfaction survey.

The area of physician well-being was an important component of my research interest, and some of the following has been previously published in The Permanente Journal.* I believe these statements speak for themselves.

The fourth post in a series

This article is the fourth post in a series of five detailing, through verbatim Northwest Permanente physician voices, how physicians value and experience patient interactions as part of their medical practice. The five installments are:

  1. What physicians derive from patient interactions
  2. Physician awareness of their state of well-being
  3. Physician personal and professional sense of self
  4. The effect of physician well-being on patient interactions
  5. Physician self-care practices.

The actual question posed to the physicians was:

Do you feel that your sense of well-being as a doctor is related to how you practice medicine with your patients?

All physicians agreed that how they practice medicine with their patients is related to, and improves, their own sense of well-being.

Effect of physician well-being on patient interactions

“They had a training program for professionals to teach them how to hold cancer retreats. My wife and I went there. One of the things they had people do, which I sometimes ask people to do, is write poems about their illness. It’s a way that people can access some deep stuff, and then, as their doctor, it’s amazing the poems people write. And knowing them as their doctor, and then reading the poem they wrote, it was such a great way to understand them better. Why they wrote this particular thing—it’s not about your dying, it’s about what you do before you die. I think it’s good training to help doctors understand who they are.” (Oncologist)

“The interactions I get with patients is the big part of my day. I get a charge out of having somebody sad, smile; of having a kid that curls up in Mom’s lap and refuses to have anybody look at them, but by the third visit is giving me high fives. It’s good for my self-worth and my ego when I realize that I’m not the best surgeon in the medical group by far, but patients or parents will say, ‘I want you to operate on my family. I want you to do this.’ It’s my interactions with them that make them want to do that.” (Otolaryngologist)

“Sometimes I get into a frustrated situation with a patient that just has too many issues to deal with in a single visit. I carry that with me sometimes for the whole day. That’s one of the reasons I work hard to have good patient interactions. I like feeling good. If I feel good, they feel good, then I feel good. I’m jazzed up.” (General Internist)

Physicians value and experience patient interactions as part of their medical practice, and their well-being affects their patients, as one doctor said, in a domino effect of positive feedback loops.

*Janisse, T. Relationship of a physician’s well-being to interactions with patients: practices of the highest performing physicians on the Art of Medicine patient survey, 
Perm J 2008 Fall:12(4):70-6. DOI:


Tom Janisse, MD, is editor and publisher of The Permanente Journal and The Permanente Press.


Search Physician & Administrative Careers:

We invite you to join our growing family of physicians, surgeons, administrators, and clinicians in the great Northwest. Search our job listings, and apply today.

View All Careers View Administrative Careers
View All Careers View Administrative Careers