Emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion is a reality amongst healthcare workers, especially after years of being on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. To learn more about the realities of burnout and how it impacts the medical industry, I spoke with Dr. Lisa Williford, an ER physician on Dr. Elliott Trotter’s team. Dr. Trotter is the inventor of the modern medical scribe and CEO of ScribeNest, in the Dallas-Fort Worth region. ScribeNest is dedicated to hiring, training, retaining, and mentoring students as medical scribes.
Disclosure: This sponsored interview sheds light on the issue of burnout among medical providers and how to protect against emotional exhaustion related to medical scribing to continue providing quality care to patients.
Interview with Dr. Lisa Williford
Medical scribes are an essential part of efficient, quality patient care, working alongside ER doctors like Dr. Williford. She is ScribeNest’s Regional Director for the West region of the Dallas/Fort Worth area. ScribeNest helps scribes through training and mentorship, improving mental focus and providing a more resilient career future. At the helm as CEO is Dr. Trotter, MD, who created medical scribing in 1995 while working as an ER doctor.
Let’s get to the interview, talking about battling burnout in the healthcare industry, work-related stressors in this field, medical scribing, and more. Welcome, Dr. Williford.
Can you please describe your current occupation for us?
I am a Physician, board certified in Emergency Medicine. I work in the Emergency Department at a Level 1 Trauma Center in Fort Worth, Texas. I care for our FW community often on the worst day of their life.
At our Emergency Department, I somedays care for people suffering from abdominal pain, sprains, colds. Other days, I care for strokes, heart attacks, major car accidents, and [gunshot] and stab wounds. I have the privilege of being with strangers during some of their most vulnerable moments.
I am the Regional Director for the West region of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex for ScribeNest. ScribeNest is a staffing company that provides medical record assistance for physicians in 9 Emergency Departments in my region. My role for the Nest is hiring, training, mentoring, and overall maintenance of my teams. I am charged with their well-being and teaching them how to do the job and also how to balance the stresses of the roles they take.
How did you get into this line of work?
When I was in college at [the] University of Texas at Arlington, I knew I wanted to be a physician. I landed a job as a medical scribe for the ER physicians at Harris Fort Worth and found my love for the Emergency Department.
I was a college kid and found myself at the Doctor’s elbow, observing how they think, how they respond in stressful situations, and how they extend compassion and care to people they had just met. Being present at intimate moments for strangers when their bodies were broken was an eye-opening experience.
The medical field can be an amazing place to work, and I started out with a love for science and [the] chemistry of how our bodies function. I soaked up every class, lab, and lecture. I took on leadership in organizations, volunteered in research labs, and tutored other students for the subjects excelled in. I was on a mission to be a physician, but more so a leader and woman who cared for the bodies and minds of my future patients.
What does a tough workday look like, and what inspires you through it?
There are so many bad days in my line of work. I have told a mother that her child has died. I have held wrinkled, tired hands and handed Kleenex to the watering eyes of a widow who lost her lifelong friend. I have put broken bodies back together and stopped life-threatening bleeding. I have delivered babies that have been healthy and crying and delivered a premature lifeless body to a grieving woman.
I have listened to my patients and diagnosed their ailments. I have received angry outbursts from people under the influence of substances and been physically attacked and kicked by an angry and intoxicated teen. On other days I have shared smiles, tears, hugs, and hands with total strangers. I have lost the privilege of ignorance and am honored to stand in the way for my community.
These are some of the hard days I have had just in the last six months. As an ER doctor, seconds matter. Time is of the essence. It is a hard job, but I enjoy hard things. I am most satisfied when I am challenged.
I am inspired by the strength of the physicians who have gone before me. There are women who have paved the way in medicine and in the Emergency Department. It is a male-dominated field, and I am currently the only full-time woman in my ER.
I am inspired by the nurses who I work with. They are with me and help me, they have my back, and I have theirs. The techs, the respiratory therapist, the pharmacist – the entire family of the ER – inspires me to keep going. They look to me to give answers and instructions, and I look to them to help hold me up, and I trust them to keep my patients safe.
My scribes inspire me. They are eager, bright-eyed minds that want to do what I do. I am inspired to show them not only how to do the job but how to be well while I do it. I tell my scribes, “This job is not meant to be who you are; it is only what you do.” They inspire me to pay it forward to the next generation of medical professionals. I am who I am because I was a scribe first.
I come home to three beautiful children. I am inspired by their artwork and collections of rocks and bugs, leaves, and flowers. Their brown and blue eyes fill my heart after a long day, a few pushes on the swing and the world seems right again. My husband is my soundboard and helps me unpack difficult days, repackage them, put the lid on, and put them on the healthy shelf.
Working with Dr. Trotter at ScribeNest, what stands out in your mind regarding achievements?
I have the odd privilege of having worked FOR Dr. Trotter when I was a scribe in college. He was a mentor and someone who taught me a lot about being a scribe.
Now as his colleague, I work alongside him. He continues to be my mentor. He has always been such an amazing listener and pushes me to the point of discomfort.
One thing that stands out to me about Elliott Trotter is how he will put young physicians’ names up for consideration for leadership roles and push them for awards and accolades. He has pushed me and grown my leadership skills in many ways over the years. He has consistently been searching for opportunities to lift other physicians before himself. He makes me feel seen as a female physician in a sea of male physicians.
What is ScribeNest’s mission?
At ScribeNest, our mission and our heart and soul is our team of scribes. These tender minds have hopes and dreams to be physicians, nurses, and physician assistants. We want to be part of their story. We want to mentor and shape their experiences in a way that inspires them to greater things.
I don’t want to just be a check box on their graduate school application. I want to mentor them and give them a foundation that helps to launch their careers. I want to help create the leaders of the next generation of medical professionals.
Interview with ScribeNest’s Dr. Lisa Williford cont’d.
Why is empowering healthcare workers so important?
There is a national shortage of physicians and nurses. The pandemic exacerbated the already present deficits, straining our health system. Helping the next generation of health professionals is important for the survival of our society on the extreme end of the spectrum.
Close to home, the people in my neighborhood, my family, and I want the same expertise and care when we are in need. Empowering ScribeNest scribes to be the next generation of leaders means better outcomes for patients living in the Fort Worth and Dallas communities.
What is something that might surprise us to know about physician burnout?
More than 50% of physicians report feeling or experiencing burnout. That number for Emergency Physicians is 65%.
What is something that might surprise us to know about physician burnout?
Only in the last decade has the topic and prevention of burnout become part of medical training programs
What does balanced living look like as a physician?
This is a hard one. I feel like over the years, I have gone in waves of having good balance and having poor balance. Having my first son while I was still in residency training was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Balance during that time meant I slept a lot and ate the foods I wanted, and took a lot of walks in the neighborhood.
Later in life, balance for me is baking, running, doing CrossFit, and reading. Some days after work, I need silence and a quiet talk with my husband. Other days, it’s a drive home with loud music and a movie night with my kids.
Like I tell my scribes, remembering that being an ER doctor and managing ScribeNest is not who I am, it is just what I do. I am a mom, a friend, an athlete, a comedian, a writer, a fighter, and a lover.
How did COVID impact medical professionals on a personal level? Is it possible to “undo” the trauma?
COVID stretched everyone’s limits. We found ourselves front and center for a national crisis. None of us imagined ourselves there ten years ago. The intense polarization of society was peripheral to me. Working where I do, we care for a huge swath of North Texas.
In my circles outside the hospital and in the community, COVID was a cold or a hoax. it’s not their fault; those people had no experience with sick COVID patients. When I was at work, I cared for many scared and dying people. We all bore witness and carried burdens we never envisioned ourselves everbearing. There isn’t a way I will ever “forget” what happened during that time.
I think seeing a counselor is an incredibly helpful resource. Having a support network is also imperative. There are ways that we learn to process the trauma and heal from its harmful effects.
How does Dr. Trotter’s work at ScribeNest differ from what others are researching?
Dr. Trotter’s work with ScribeNest is just more of the same that he has always done. He is always a mentor. He is always an advocate and is always lifting up others and paying it forward to the next generation.
If there is only one thing you want to share about avoiding being unhappy in one’s job, what is it?
Learn to step away from work. Leave it when you get in the car and don’t carry it on your clothes and into your home. Be present with loved ones and put your work shoes in the garage. They will be there when you have your next shift, and you can suit up and put your cape back on another day.
Thank you for being here, Dr. Lisa Williford. The work you do as an ER doctor and on the ScribeNest team is changing lives. You are truly inspiring!
Connect with ScribeNest to learn more
ScribeNest operates in the greater Dallas and Fort Worth area in Texas. The doctor-owned company focuses on taking care of scribes, which in turn helps doctors and improves patient care. Learn more about training and mentoring on the ScribeNest website, and how to join the team.
Feature photo: Meet Dr. Lisa Williford, Regional Director of ScribeNest. Photo used with Williford’s permission.