The Latest on Burnout in Healthcare: What You Can Do

January 28, 2016
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Physician burnout is getting worse. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic conducted a survey of physicians in 2014 and compared the results with a similar survey done in 2011. Their suggestions for improving the situation are listed below. Supported by grant funding from the Mayo Clinic Program on Physician Well-being, the results show that burnout was worse in 2014, affecting more than half of U.S. physicians at 54.4 percent, as compared to 45.5 percent of physicians reporting burnout in 2011.

Physician burnout is getting worse. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic conducted a survey of physicians in 2014 and compared the results with a similar survey done in 2011. Their suggestions for improving the situation are listed below. Supported by grant funding from the Mayo Clinic Program on Physician Well-being, the results show that burnout was worse in 2014, affecting more than half of U.S. physicians at 54.4 percent, as compared to 45.5 percent of physicians reporting burnout in 2011. Led by Dr. Tait D. Shanafelt, the researchers report “a 10 percent increase in the prevalence of burnout among U.S. physicians over the last three years.”

According to the article, published in December 2015, “Burnout is a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, loss of meaning in work, feelings of ineffectiveness and a tendency to view people as objects rather than as human beings.” Based on responses to a 22-item questionnaire, the Maslach Burnout Inventory, researchers determined that “46.9 percent of U.S. physicians had high emotional exhaustion, 34.6 percent high depersonalization and 16.3 percent a low sense of personal accomplishment in 2014.”

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What You Can Do

Whether or not you are a physician, if you work in healthcare you may have experienced burnout. It negatively impacts practice owners, employed physicians, hospital administrators and all members of patient-care teams. The authors list steps that can be taken as individuals to help manage or avoid burnout:

  • Identify and prioritize your personal and professional values
  • Set priorities in anticipation of conflicting responsibilities
  • Utilize mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques
  • Develop personal interests
  • Maintain nurturing/protective relationships
  • Practice self-care

Organizational Change

Beyond efforts made by individuals, healthcare organizations can make changes on an institutional level to help physicians and other healthcare professionals avoid burnout. The authors recommend that progress be made in the following areas:

  • Improve efficiency and support in the practice environment
  • Select and develop leaders with skills to foster physician engagement
  • Help physicians optimize the fit they have with their chosen career
  • Create an environment that nurtures community, flexibility and control
  • Establish principles that help facilitate work-life integration
  • Help physicians self-calibrate and self-promote wellness

Leadership Scores

So, how can we change both ourselves and our healthcare organizations to help physicians and allied practitioners avoid burnout, increase job satisfaction and find a better work-life balance? A 2013 survey of physicians and scientists within the Mayo Clinic system suggested a correlation between the burnout experienced by physicians and the effectiveness of leadership.

“The behaviors of physician supervisors have a direct impact on the personal well-being of the physicians they lead,” says Shanafelt, who was lead author of this study as well. Survey respondents evaluated their supervisors on 12 aspects of leadership to calculate an overall score:

  • Holds career development conversations with me
  • Inspires me to do my best
  • Empowers me to do my job
  • Is interested in my opinion
  • Encourages employees to suggest ideas for improvement
  • Treats me with respect and dignity
  • Provides helpful feedback and coaching on my performance
  • Recognizes me for a job well done
  • Keeps me informed about changes taking place at Mayo Clinic
  • Encourages me to develop my talents and skills
  • I would recommend working for (name)
  • Overall, how satisfied are you with (name)?
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For every one-point improvement in the leadership score, there was a 9 percent increase in job satisfaction and a 3.3 percent decrease in the likelihood of burnout. “Effective leaders inform, engage, develop, empower and recognize the achievements of the physicians they lead,” says Shanafelt.

Rapid changes in healthcare practices, institutions and regulations can be overwhelming. We ask practitioners to undertake demanding patient-care schedules that require high levels of technical competence, and at the same time reduce costs. Good leadership starts at the individual level, by encouraging and respecting ourselves first, as well as those around us. However, while healthcare professionals can minimize some burnout through mindfulness and self-care, and by encouraging and supporting their own team members, institutional administrators and policy makers must work to provide more supportive and flexible environments throughout the healthcare industry.