Physician Health

Burned out? You’re not alone. Here’s how 2 doctors overcame it.

Health care is experiencing a physician burnout epidemic. And with 42 percent of physicians reporting burnout in one online survey, it is important to know you’re not alone. Physicians face a unique set of problems that can often lead to burnout, including external forces beyond your control such as regulatory and administrative burdens. Fortunately, though, there are ways to recover from physician burnout.

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To address burnout’s underlying causes, look to team-based care

To help you avoid, navigate and survive physician burnout, two physicians share their stories on how they overcame the struggle.

Team-based care lessens the EHR burden

“It took some time to fully realize how difficult—if not impossible—it had become to function effectively as a physician,” said James Jerzak, MD, AMA member and family physician at Bellin Health in Green Bay. “I thought I was pretty efficient working on the computer in the room with the patient.”

“In retrospect, trying to document the visit, enter the orders, renew medications, all while trying to function as an effective primary care physician—in a 15-minute appointment—was overwhelming,” he added.

When the EHR problem was brought to the attention of Bellin’s physicians and administration in early 2014, it led to their team-based care transformation. By allowing the staff to perform most of the EHR work, it lessened Dr. Jerzak’s workload and allowed him to focus completely on the patient. For more details, visit the AMA STEPS Forward™ module, “EHR In-Basket Restructuring for Improved Efficiency.”

“Patients notice the difference,” he said. “I cannot imagine working in what for us now is the ‘old world.’ I feel for the doctors that remain in that situation.”

The other contributing factor to physician burnout was the overwhelming demands of complex and high-risk patients. To help Dr. Jerzak and his physician colleagues, Bellin created an extended care team consisting of case managers, clinical pharmacists, diabetes services and care coordinators. This allowed them to work together to get patients the help they need.

“Discussing these patients with the extended care team members drives home the point that practicing medicine can no longer be an individual responsibility,” he said.

Take a break from your daily routine

“Before the phenomenon of burnout was generally recognized, I now realize that I experienced periods of burnout. At those times, I benefitted the most from a complete break from my daily routine,” said AMA member and Yale Medicine Chief Medical Officer Ronald Vender, MD. He is also the associate dean for clinical affairs and a professor of medicine in digestive diseases at Yale.

Dr. Vender has always enjoyed traveling and family vacations. His favorite memories included exploring cities in Europe. However, he found that a quiet vacation on the beach was better for overcoming burnout.

“The opportunity to sleep late, live without a schedule, be surrounded by natural beauty, eat a leisurely breakfast and completely disconnect was restorative,” he said. “However, that has become more difficult in our connected world, so at least once or twice a year I now force myself to fully disconnect.”

AMA’s STEPS Forward is an open-access platform featuring more than 50 modules that offer actionable, expert-driven strategies and insights supported by practical resources and tools. Based on best practices from the field, STEPS Forward modules empower practices to identify areas or opportunities for improvement, set meaningful and achievable goals, and implement transformative changes designed to increase operational efficiencies, elevate clinical team engagement, and improve patient care.

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.