Physician Health

Addressing physician burnout starts with a healthy team culture

Sara Berg, MS , News Editor

Sometimes change sticks and sometimes it does not. This might have to do with a practice’s culture, which is the set of underlying rules and beliefs that determine how everyone interacts with each other and with patients.

Physicians and other health professionals can learn more about how addressing physician burnout begins with a healthy team through an AMA STEPS Forward™ module on creating a strong team culture.

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Through this free online education module, practices can follow 10 steps for building, improving and strengthening their team culture.

Diagnose culture before intervening. To gauge the health of your team culture, use surveys to perform a burnout systems test or to measure team development. Make it clear that the survey is anonymous and will only be used to improve the practice. These should never be used to place blame or punish an individual or group.

Brainstorm ideas. Once the surveys are completed, share the results with the entire practice to review and think about opportunities for improvement. Brainstorming can be as simple as asking what the group should work on such as addressing physician burnout.

Create a written document. A staff compact details how staff should treat each other. Everyone in the practice should help create the document. If the entire staff is involved in the creation of this document, they will be more invested in and live by the compact. It strengthens the team by focusing on values at the core of the practice’s culture. 

Maintain team communication. Teams with the most face-to-face exchanges often perform better than those who do not. This can include co-location, team huddles, warm handoffs, end-of-day debriefs and weekly team meetings. Daily communication between team members helps to strengthen working relationships and build team culture.

Hold regular team meetings. To make a difference in the culture of your practice, try holding weekly or bi-weekly meetings. Conducting effective team meetings will help improve relationships and productivity. It also emphasizes the importance of building and improving the team.

Focus on individual development. When a person can learn and grow, they thrive at work. Create opportunities for staff to take on new responsibilities, and remain flexible in helping your team take courses, or get a more advanced degree so that they may take on new roles in your practice. This sends a powerful message about the values of your practice.

Get to know your team members. While this might seem obvious, getting to know your team members is an easy way to strengthen your practice’s culture. Some simple ways to learn more about your colleagues while improving team spirit is by celebrating birthdays, work anniversaries, a new team member, a promotion, your local sports team or holidays.

Leaders as mentors, not managers. For a successful team culture, promote a leader who emphasizes teaching and mentoring over traditional management structures. Physicians use leadership and coaching daily by communicating with and teaching patients. Strive to use the same skills in your interactions with your team. Leadership sets the tone for the culture of a practice.

Support continual learning. In today’s ever-changing health care environment, it is important for a practice to remain flexible. Allowing continual learning and identifying opportunities for improvement within the practice will help the team grow and evolve together, strengthening team culture.

Engage patients. Don’t forget about your patients. When asked, patients will share feedback that can help build a stronger practice. Engage patients through focused surveys or by forming a patient advisory council.

The AMA’s STEPS Forward™ collection offers free online modules that help physicians and system leaders improve well-being, including learning about the organizational changes that lead to physician satisfaction and improving resiliency.

Several modules have been developed from the generous grant funding of the federal Transforming Clinical Practices Initiative (TCPI), an effort designed to help clinicians achieve large-scale health transformation through TCPI’s Practice Transformation Networks.

The AMA, in collaboration with TCPI, is providing technical assistance and peer-level support by way of STEPS Forward resources to enrolled practices. The AMA is also engaging the national physician community in health care transformation through network projects, change packages, success stories and training modules.