Beating Physician Burnout: 5 Things to Ask of Your Employer

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Physician burnout didn’t start with the COVID-19 pandemic, so perhaps it’s not surprising that even as we put the worst of the pandemic behind us, physician burnout shows no signs of subsiding. The latest findings in joint JPS-MGMA research point to a worsening of the burnout crisis and broader acknowledgment of it by healthcare leaders. Administrators want to mitigate the burnout felt by physicians, but according to the research, their attempts often go unnoticed by physicians and do little to solve the problem. What solutions are they trying? And what can you, the physician, ask of your employer that may decrease the levels of burnout at your organization? 

Physicians Report Increased Burnout, and Administrators Are More Aware of It

According to the JPS and MGMA whitepaper, Back from Burnout: Confronting the Post-Pandemic Physician Turnover Crisis, the percentage of physicians who say they are experiencing burnout rose four percentage points in the past year, from 61% in 2021 to 65% in 2022. Among those with burnout, 75% say their burnout has gotten worse in the past year. Administrators are increasingly aware of the problem. Their perceptions of physician burnout grew by five percentage points, from 68% in 2021 to 73% in 2022. 

Looking beyond the extent of burnout, the 2022 JPS-MGMA research also explores what physicians and administrators perceive to be the source of burnout. Is it the stressful nature of a physician’s job that causes burnout or the specific ways their employer runs the healthcare organization? Unsurprisingly, physicians were more likely than administrators to point to the employer as the source of burnout, as opposed to the nature of physicians’ work. Just 19% of administrators say the employer mostly causes burnout (over the nature of the job) while 40% of physicians point to the employer as the primary cause.

5 Things to Ask of Your Employer to Mitigate Burnout

If physicians believe their employers cause burnout, this implies there are specific things employers can do (or stop doing) to mitigate the problem. While these things may seem obvious to you, ongoing JPS research shows there is often a significant disconnect between how administrators and physicians see the same situation. It’s time to be proactive by having an honest conversation with your manager about the issues that you feel contribute to burnout and the potential ways your manager could solve or improve those issues. Each organization is different of course, but if the research is any indicator, you may want to start with the following topics: 

  1. Two-way communication with management — In the JPS-MGMA study, physicians report two-way communication with management as the top factor contributing to their work satisfaction — above compensation. This was also true for the previous year. This suggests management could make a significant impact with physicians simply by opening the lines of communication and providing more transparency. Give your manager specific examples of ways they might do this such as, attending regular one-on-one meetings with physicians, holding roundtables or town hall style meetings, and prioritizing transparency. It can also be enlightening to schedule time for administrators to shadow physicians and physicians to shadow management. Each party will gain insight into the daily challenges the other faces and can discuss those issues from a place of empathy. 
  2. Workload equity — Whether in the home, the office, or the hospital, no one wants to feel like they are doing more work than everyone else. Physicians ranked workload equity third on the list of factors contributing to job satisfaction. This was up from No. 5 in 2021. Nationwide staffing shortages may be contributing to the unfair workloads put on physicians. If this is the case, ask your employer to prioritize staffing and find help by any means necessary including using locums, leveraging travel nurses, and hiring medical scribes and other administrative support. Of course, workload equity can also feel unfair if more tenured physicians aren’t carrying any of the call burden. Research how other organizations manage these issues, and if you find your organization is out-of-step, make suggestions to improve.
  3. Autonomy — According to the JPS-MGMA whitepaper, physician burnout can be reframed as “moral injury,” which refers to the challenge of knowing what care patients need but being unable to provide it due to constraints beyond a doctor’s control. If you feel this describes physicians at your organization, let management know that physicians need more autonomy to make decisions for their patients. This request is, of course, anything but simple, and the bigger the organization, the more complex the issue becomes. This won’t be solved overnight, but it is worth starting a conversation with management about what can be done in this area. 
  4. Reduced administrative burden – Your manager likely won’t be surprised to learn that administrative duties are weighing on physicians, but if you can suggest tangible solutions that might make a positive impact, they may be more willing to listen and take steps to test your solution. You may propose hiring a medical scribe or training someone internally to do this job. If the EMR is causing more problems than it solves, request additional training or software add-ons that may increase efficiency of use. You may want to request a regular work-from-home “admin day” (or half-day) that allows physicians to get caught up on those duties.  
  5. Additional time off – Work-life balance is increasingly important to physicians of all ages, and time away from work is key to achieving a healthy balance. If staffing shortages make time off seem impossible, stress the importance to your manager and ask for locums coverage to allow physicians to take time off to relax and recover.  

It’s unlikely your supervisor will be totally surprised by any of these concerns, but by bringing them into the open and proposing viable solutions, you can begin the conversation and more effectively work towards resolving, or at least, improving the most pressing issues. Don’t be held back by the idea that burnout is an individual problem for each physician to solve for him or herself. Organizations are motivated to reduce physician burnout as it drives up turnover which costs the industry, by some estimates, up to a billion dollars each year. So, don’t hesitate to start the conversation with your manager and proactively ask for what you need to improve burnout for you and your peers. 

If you find that your organization is not willing or able to improve circumstances for physicians, it may be time to look for a new physician job. Reach out to a Jackson Physician Search Recruiter today or search physician jobs online now.

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