Job-related burnout is a problem across many professions. In medicine, burnout is a case of friction between physicians’ expectations and the realities of an extremely disconnected healthcare system. This is why more than 50 percent of physicians are currently showing signs of dangerous burnout. According to a study conducted by Stanford, physician burnout costs their hospital $7.75 million a year. This is clearly an issue that healthcare leaders should be taking serious measures to address.
The primary focus for reducing burnout in the workplace is usually placed on the individual employee. Short-term solutions like wellness seminars, promoting time management, stress reduction, and mindfulness training are beneficial — but they are temporary tactics that mask the symptoms of burnout instead of uprooting them. In reality, only 10 percent of employee burnout is self-induced. Even if a physician successfully reduces the symptoms of burnout, going back to work in the same setting will likely just burn them out all over again.
Rather than addressing the intimidating circumstance of toxic practice environments and working toward institutional change, these quick-fix burnout programs put the impetus on the physician when, in reality, most employees are experiencing burnout as a result of impractical scheduling processes and systems.
In order to combat physician burnout, employers must become more active in auditing the culture of their practice environments. If they don’t, their organization’s bottom line will suffer as they’re left behind, catching up to hospitals that are embracing technology, automation, and AI with a focus on physician satisfaction. Additionally, investing in physicians’ well-being is good business. Hospitals effectively addressing the issue of burnout recognize the need for a flexible, dynamic, and immediate solution to position themselves for long-term success. Resources such as the AMA’s STEPS Forward module, Creating the Organizational Foundation for Joy in Medicine, is one example of how a health operation’s leader can gain insight into ways that benefit their bottom line while developing a more productive and satisfying environment for their physicians.
It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, but medical leaders can find a sizable solution that will have clear benefits for their business. Even former U.S. surgeon general Vivek Murthy, M.D., has been vocal about the importance of addressing the epidemic. He believes that while “we need more qualified and compassionate clinicians, we must ensure the environments we create in medicine — and the tools with which we equip our doctors — promote emotional well-being.”
Dr. Murthy is precise about the direction forward. With physicians plagued by exhaustion, loss of purpose, feelings of ineffectiveness, and the risk of medical errors, burnout is a public health crisis. If we can’t create an environment to keep physicians healthy, how can we expect them to provide the service required to keep the general population healthy — especially when they’re on the front lines of caring for others?
Physician burnout is a complicated, multifaceted, systemic issue that requires a complicated, multifaceted, systemic response. While a single organization cannot be expected to address all the issues surrounding this epidemic, the first steps do start from within individual health systems. Looking at shift schedules, researching the impact of new health technology on physicians, and assigning a physician satisfaction officer are good places to start. But isn’t it time for the healthcare community to coordinate and synthesize their efforts to create momentum and accelerate actions toward creating a lasting solution for the burnout epidemic?
Original article featured on LinkedIn Pulse.