Physician Health

5 steps that can help physicians feel valued at work

Sara Berg, MS , News Editor

Personal well-being often takes a back seat to the myriad demands of daily life. Yet amid the hustle and bustle, true connection can help physicians and other health professionals feel more satisfied and motivated in their careers. And while systemic change is necessary to reduce doctor burnout and improve well-being, Hattiesburg Clinic in southern Mississippi also recognizes the need for finding ways to connect.

In fact, after completing the AMA Organizational Biopsy®, some suggestions for how Hattiesburg Clinic can continue to support well-being centered on more social gatherings with other physicians, professional coaching and peer recognition. Hattiesburg Clinic is a member of the AMA Health System Program, which provides enterprise solutions to equip leadership, physicians and care teams with resources to help drive the future of medicine. Hattiesburg Clinic has more than 450 physicians and non-physician providers located in 17 counties in South Mississippi.

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Even though 84.6% of Hattiesburg Clinic physicians reported feeling satisfied with their job, less than half of respondents said they felt valued by the organization. This signaled an ongoing need to find areas for further engagement.

During an interview with the AMA, two leaders in human resources and employee engagement at Hattiesburg Clinic shared some of the ways that the physician-owned and -governed health care organization is working to improve their physicians’ sense that they are valued.

One of the ways to improve well-being, as noted in the survey by physicians and other health professionals at Hattiesburg Clinic, was more social connection.

Hattiesburg Clinic has a few different initiatives to support social connection. For example, the organization “had a big party for our entire physician and support staff at our local zoo,” said Rebecca Lauderdale, MD, an internist who serves as the clinic’s physician well-being champion, in an “AMA Update” episode on improving satisfaction and well-being.

“We had about 2,500 people come. We invited all of our employees and their families, and we got excellent feedback about that,” Dr. Lauderdale added.

The zoo outing “was a labor of love. To figure out how to do this … we worked with our zoo in the city, and they shut it down for us,” said Susan Yarrow, employee engagement coordinator at Hattiesburg Clinic. “We figured out all the logistics and what we were going to do.”

“People loved it,” Yarrow said of the zoo outing. “They loved being able to take their families. They loved that the clinic did this for them.”

The occasion also was used to help do good. A human-resources employee designed a T-shirt, and sales of the shirt generated thousands of dollars that were donated to the Edwards Street Fellowship Health Clinic, which offers free medical, dental and pharmaceutical care to eligible uninsured or underinsured area residents.

“It speaks to our sense of community and belonging as employees of Hattiesburg Clinic,” said Ann Johnson, director of human resources at Hattiesburg Clinic. “People really cherish that about working here. It’s like working with family.”

It is also important to have transparent communication across Hattiesburg Clinic. For example, CEO Bryan Batson, MD, has a monthly newsletter that goes out to physicians and other health professionals across the organization.

“He is very supportive of initiatives around the entire clinic, so he helps mention these big things that are going on to make sure that the employees are aware and that he’s supportive of it,” said Johnson, noting that Dr. Batson does a good job of sharing that information with everyone in the clinic.

Beyond Dr. Batson’s monthly newsletter, directors and chiefs of different departments meet to discuss what is going on at Hattiesburg Clinic. From those meetings, the directors and chiefs have a responsibility as they are rounding with their own teams to further share information. This eliminates the expectation that the responsibility for sharing information falls on one person or one department.  

Hattiesburg Clinic also has their Wow! Committee, which is a team of 17 health professionals and physicians who meet monthly to discuss engagement initiatives. During their meetings, the committee reviews nominations submitted by peers to recognize their co-workers who exhibit clinic values: respect, integrity, commitment to patients, compassion, fairness and vision. Each person recognized is profiled on the organization’s intranet.

One new member of the committee is Christopher N. Painter, DO, an anesthesiologist with Hattiesburg Clinic Anesthesiology, who “feels like employee engagement is one of the most important things in the clinic,” so he wanted to be a part of it.

“We have physicians, we have managers, we have receptionists, we have nurses and specialists,” Johnson echoed. “Hattiesburg Clinic is a community-based organization. Having committee members from all areas of the clinic helps foster a sense of belonging and community, which is important to Hattiesburg Clinic,” Johnson said. 

As clinics continue to engage and understand the importance of interaction with others, Yarrow, Johnson and Dr. Lauderdale have found that there are ways to bridge the gap and bring physicians and other health professionals together.

While Dr. Lauderdale focuses on physician well-being and burnout initiatives, Yarrow brings in the employee side. But they don’t have to be siloed. There has been an overlap, and it is an ongoing focus for Dr. Lauderdale and Yarrow to find ways to bring physicians and other health professionals and employees together to further advance engagement at Hattiesburg Clinic. There is potential to grow and continue to intertwine in certain ways beyond the zoo event.

Physicians and other health professionals can also use an online suggestion portal to share ideas on how to improve work at Hattiesburg Clinic. Through the portal, the user chooses a category—such as building and grounds, employee experience, information systems, human resources, patient care and workflow, cost savings, benefits, employee health and administration—to ensure accuracy, shares their suggestion and offers a potential solution. It is then sent to the appropriate parties based on the category chosen.

“We have gotten a lot of really good Epic ideas out of it about the workflow and EHR,” Yarrow said. As part of improvements within the EHR, Hattiesburg Clinic has been awarded Epic Gold Stars Level 10 for four years in a row.

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