Physician Health

1 part of physician burnout fix: Help doctors develop as leaders

As a family physician, Tom Jenike, MD, has experienced a tremendous amount of success professionally. It’s translated into great outcomes in his professional life, but he felt overwhelmed, pressured and stretched thin. Determined to remain engaged, Dr. Jenike began working with an executive coach who helped him recommit to his life’s work. This led to a leadership program aimed at addressing physician burnout head on.

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In this two-part series experts on burnout research share their personal experiences managing burnout and address potential system-wide solutions. 

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Committed to making physician burnout a thing of the past, the AMA has studied, and is currently addressing issues causing and fueling physician burnout—including time constraints, technology and regulations—to better understand and reduce the challenges physicians face. By focusing on factors causing burnout at the system-level, the AMA assesses an organization’s well-being and offers guidance and targeted solutions to support physician well-being and satisfaction. 

In 2013, Dr. Jenike created the Leadership Development Program for doctors at Novant Health, a four-state integrated network of physician clinics, outpatient centers and hospitals. The network consists of more than 1,600 employed doctors. The intervention is designed to help physicians achieve better work-life balance, develop leadership skills, boost engagement and find fulfillment.

More than 1,000 physicians and leaders have participated in the three-day, off-site retreat with one follow-up event a month later. The program has exceeded expectations, leading to an engagement increase from the 57th percentile nationally to the 97th percentile, which meant physicians were more involved with patient care, taken on leadership roles and participated in organizational initiatives. Novant Health also saw a 300% growth in new physicians and employees over the years following the launch of the program.

“I walked away feeling more personally fulfilled with my life and with my work,” said Dr. Jenike, senior vice president and chief human experience officer at Novant Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “It came from a premise that if I was having great professional success and it all looked good, but it didn’t feel good that certainly other of my colleagues had to be feeling the same way.”

Here is how the program has helped reduce and prevent burnout while creating a culture of well-being and making system-level changes.

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Create relationships and support

Many physicians may not know anyone in the program. But three days later, they have established a tight knit group of people they will have lasting friendships with, said Dr. Jenike.

“Through this shared experience, we’ve really formed a community of people that are out there caring for themselves and for each other,” he said.

Physicians have even called or emailed Dr. Jenike to express concern for a colleague who seems to be struggling. They learn how to recognize and respond to physician burnout in their colleagues. That is the result of the relationships they have built in this program—the physicians look out for each other.

Improve the organization’s culture

Once people are reengaged, they often have a desire to create a better environment for themselves and their colleagues.

“We really started to create operational efficiencies and working on external forces that are driving burnout,” said Dr. Jenike. “It’s not just telling them to smile through it. We understand that the organization has a part to play in making it hard, so how can we influence that?

“It becomes the centerpiece of a holistic, systematic, organizational approach to increase well-being and health,” he added.

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Lead system-level changes

Graduates of the program also engaged in initiatives to address system issues. For example, an EHR optimization team worked to streamline the process of documentation in the electronic health record and reduce associated frustrations. This also includes Novant’s new “getting rid of stupid stuff” initiative to help reduce administrative burdens for doctors and other health professionals. 

Another system-level change spearheaded by graduates was to change the onboarding process for physicians. The new procedure includes a three-day orientation over the course of nine months. In groups of 30 to 50 people, physicians talk about well-being from the beginning.

“We talk about the culture we’re trying to create, what is expected of them and what they can expect from us,” said Dr. Jenike, adding that there is also a mentoring program to help new physicians transition from residency into practice.

“These physicians are really trying to influence the system to make it easier while they do their own work,” he said.

The AMA’s STEPS Forward™ open-access modules offer innovative strategies that allow physicians and their staff to thrive in the new health care environment. These courses can help you prevent physician burnout, create the organizational foundation for joy in medicine and improve practice efficiency. A collection of CME modules specifically address workflow and process improvements.

STEPS Forward is part of the AMA Ed Hub™, an online platform with top-quality CME and education that supports the professional development needs of physicians and other health professionals. With topics relevant to you, it also offers an easy, streamlined way to find, take, track and report educational activities.