Physician burnout has been a topic of conversation for several years now, but a related topic that is not garnering nearly enough attention is physician wellness. According to the National Institute of Health, part of the reason is that physician wellness or physician well-being is not clearly defined or measured. With the spotlight on the issue of physician burnout, now is the perfect time for healthcare administrators to focus attention on creating a culture of wellness within their physician group.
An article published by the New England Journal of Medicine cited a culture of wellness as one of three drivers that contribute to higher professional fulfillment, along with the efficiency of practice, and personal resilience. The article cites the culture of wellness and the efficiency of practice as organizational responsibilities in addressing burnout, while personal resilience is the responsibility of the individual physician. Let’s look at ways healthcare organizations can begin creating physician wellness efforts as an approach toward reducing burnout.
Understand what a Culture of Wellness Means
As defined, a culture of wellness includes a set of values, attitudes, and behaviors promoting personal and professional growth, the practice of self-care, and compassion for colleagues, patients, and the individual. Once healthcare organizations recognize the importance of physician wellness, they are more likely to measure and attend to it with resources and accountability.
Recognize Burnout in Your Organization
While 98% of healthcare administrators recognize that burnout is a problem, most perceive it to be a greater problem outside of their own organization. To understand the levels of burnout within your organization, it has to be measured periodically via the Maslach Burnout Inventory or another similar tool. It is always better to know how much burnout is impacting your staff and work toward finding solutions.
Designate a Wellness “Owner”
One key way that organizations can prove that they are taking physician wellness seriously is by designating an individual to own wellness efforts. Having someone who can champion the effort and also have accountability for the development of the plan and associated results, demonstrates a level of seriousness that facilitates physician “buy-in.”
Focus on Continuous Improvement in Workflows
As important as measuring your internal levels of physician burnout are towards understanding the scope of the problem, it is equally important to understand the contributing factors. Organizationally, it is critical to recognize inefficiencies in workflows and other factors that are causing your physicians the most frustration. For some, it is excessive time spent on EMR’s, for others, it might be appropriate time off after unusually long or difficult shifts. The best way to get a handle on the issues causing the biggest challenges for your staff is by talking about them. Encouraging open and honest dialogue can shine a light on things that need to be changed, but also lead to physician-led solutions.
Everyone handles stressors differently. Some physicians seem immune to pressure situations, while others internalize them and struggle in silence. Being resilient is a critical characteristic for anyone who has a stressful occupation. The good news is that resiliency can be learned. Putting resources toward developing resiliency skills in your physician staff and implementing other interventions like a strong mentorship program can help your team handle the pressures of the job while facilitating important dialogue and creative solutions.
Creating a culture of wellness requires resources and accountability throughout clinical and administrative leadership. It is not unreasonable to expect that your physicians should attend to their own well-being, although providing them with the tools and resources to do that is critical to a successful approach. Clearly, strategies to reduce physician burnout are dominating national studies of practicing physicians and physicians in training. As more research and data becomes available about successful physician wellness programs, discussions about integrating a more balanced approach to combating physician burnout will be more prevalent.
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