In May 2023, the Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, released an advisory highlighting the epidemic of loneliness and isolation, building awareness of the hazards of this epidemic and emphasizing the transformative effects of social connection and community. He issued a call to action to address this “public health crisis” and laid the framework for a national strategy to advance social connection.
This call to action reaffirms the ongoing reality faced by medspouses and partners when moving for medicine: “Loneliness negatively impacts mental and physical health, while social connectedness is vital for leading happier and healthier lives.”
Given the profound consequences of loneliness and isolation, we have an opportunity, and an obligation, to make the same investments in addressing social connection that we have made in addressing tobacco use, obesity, and addiction crisis.-Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A. Surgeon General of the United States Vice Admiral, United States Public Health Service
It’s encouraging that the Surgeon General is acknowledging this is a concerning state of affairs and emphasizing that it requires immediate action.
Why It Matters
One out of two people, or half of US citizens, experience loneliness and only 16% of Americans reported feeling attached to their local community. Why does this matter? Loneliness poses a significant risk to one’s health, mental and physical. Among the array of startling statistics unveiled in the advisory, data shows insufficient social connection is associated with:
- The risk of premature death due to loneliness, comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.
- Increased risk of disease, including heart disease and stroke.
- Increased risk for anxiety, depression, and dementia.
- Increased susceptibility to viruses and respiratory illness.
Also interesting to note, the feeling of loneliness influences our biological processes:
Evidence shows that being objectively isolated, or even the perception of isolation, can increase inflammation to the same degree as physical inactivity.-The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community
As a medspouse/partner, the risk is real. Moving to a new city without family or friends; leaving an established community; spending extended periods of time alone; facing stereotypes. These are just a few factors that can result in feelings of loneliness and isolation.
While these are troubling statistics, the good news is there are ways to combat such risks.
Fostering personal relationships within our local community can lead to increased happiness and improved resilience in managing difficult times more effectively and efficiently. It has also been proven that social connection improves our biological system by reducing dysregulation, thereby reducing inflammation.
Needless to say, The MedCommons supports the Surgeon General’s position on this topic. In fact, our platform facilitates social connection for the very purpose of helping medspouses & partners combat loneliness and isolation. The following highlights just how much we align with the strategy and approach recommended by the Surgeon General.
Key Factors Worth Noting
The Surgeon General’s advisory introduced six pillars of strategy to “help individuals consider these impacts and cultivate ways to foster sufficient social connection outside of chosen traditional means and structures.” Below, we look at three of the pillars where The MedCommons serves as a tool to foster greater connection and prevent social disconnection for our medspouse/partner community.
- Strengthen Social Infrastructure: As part of the strategy put forth by the Surgeon General, this pillar suggests strengthening social infrastructure to support the development of social connections. The MedCommons has built an inclusive platform that provides resources and an ability to build friendships in local communities for our often overlooked micro-community.
- Mobilize the Health Sector: This pillar promotes using technology “in a positive vein” and encourages supporting “the development of pro-connection technology to promote healthy social connection”. The MedCommons provides a safe, pro-connection environment for physician spouses and partners to find others in their micro-community who understand what it’s like to be part of a medical family.
- Reform Digital Environments: The MedCommons aligns with this pillar by cultivating a culture of connection while at the same time, working to limit social disconnection. While we use technology to connect our users, both our platform and our message encourage users to take relationships offline to deepen connections within their micro-community.
Our platform has been intentionally designed as an informal support system to foster the development of positive and healthy relationships, offering an easy mode of social connection.
Also worth noting… The Surgeon General recommends training physicians on how to educate patients on the benefits of social connection. This is a crucial component of this comprehensive strategy to advance social connection.
We strongly support this with one addition – Train healthcare systems and medical programs on how to better encourage initiatives that foster social connection within physician families, thereby promoting overall physician family well-being. We must take care of our physician families so physicians, in turn, can take care of the public.
How Might You Help?
We applaud any effort made by healthcare systems and medical programs to support services focused on the well-being of physicians and their families. The MedCommons continues to work with these facilities, as well as other institutions, to identify and incorporate more support services for medspouses/partners and their families.
You can impact this effort by spreading the word. Here’s how:
- During interview season, ask the medical program if they’ve heard about the Surgeon General’s Advisory, the importance of connection, and how they support physician families when onboarding new interns.
- Make your partner’s employer aware of the resources and community The MedCommons provides to physician families.
- Recommend the hospital or residency program includes The MedCommons as a resource link on the wellness portion of their website to build awareness of our offerings.
- Encourage your partner to advocate for programs and services that support community building and physician-family engagement.
At the end of the day, no one wants to feel lonely or isolated. Any positive steps toward encouraging social connection and community need to be applauded and supported.
The Surgeon General’s advisory on loneliness and the healing power of social connection is a significant step in building national awareness regarding this critical public health issue. We’re thankful for their efforts and hope they continue to make strides in this area.
Visit The MedCommons to see how we align with this very important effort.