Burnout pervades medical education too. Here’s how to tackle it.

Timothy M. Smith , Contributing News Writer

AMA News Wire

Burnout pervades medical education too. Here’s how to tackle it.

Nov 29, 2023

The importance of educator well-being to the medical profession cannot be overstated. After all, burnout isn’t just a threat to the physician workforce; it threatens the health of the entire nation. But crafting a plan for promoting educator well-being can be daunting. Fortunately, there’s one logical place to focus your initial efforts: assessment.

Fighting physician burnout

Reducing burnout is essential to high-quality patient care and a sustainable health system. The AMA measures and responds to physician burnout, helping drive solutions and interventions.

A plenary session at the AMA ChangeMedEd® 2023 conference explored assessment’s role in finding ways to address the root causes of medical educator well-being. The guidance provided was drawn heavily from content developed for Educator Well-Being in Academic Medicine, a first-of-its-kind book published by the AMA featuring insights and guidance for administrators and other leaders in academic medicine looking to heal U.S. medical education.

Reducing physician burnout is a critical component of the AMA Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians.

Far too many American physicians experience burnout. That's why the AMA develops resources that prioritize well-being and highlight workflow changes so physicians can focus on what matters—patient care.

Educators are often situated at the intersection of education, practice and research, “and those missions don't always line up,” said Andrea N. Leep Hunderfund, MD, MHPE, medical director for the Office of Applied Scholarship in Education Science at the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota. “Measurement can illuminate how our educators are doing and, even more, potential barriers and facilitators in the environment that might be unique to that role.”

In addition, it can uncover differences in experience between various groups, Dr. Leep Hunderfund noted. Those groups could be distinguished by schools or programs or even sites.

“Measurement can also help a leadership team—can help an organization—figure out where to ask more questions, where to direct improvement efforts, how to prioritize, and then, importantly, how to evaluate the things that we try to do to make things better,” she said.

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“Measuring something without having a plan, resources and leadership support to do something based on the results can end up doing more harm than good and disenfranchise a community,” Dr. Leep Hunderfund said.

She recommended asking the following questions during the assessment process.

If to measure? “Measurement has a better role, arguably, when the situation has become a little more stabilized, even if it's still complex or challenging,” Dr. Leep Hunderfund said. “This is a good time, I think, to circle back to what COVID and that whole disruption illuminated.”

When to measure? “Paying attention to timing is really important,” she said. “What are the competing asks of faculty or of educators? Being attentive to those things will help get a good engagement with the measurement. It's the worst feeling ever to put a bunch of effort into something and then get really low participation.”

Who to measure? This has a double meaning. The first involves who does the measuring, and this should be someone who is visible and credible and has the resources to do it. The second involves determining which educators to measure. “You may want to do a local measurement in one department or one program or something much bigger across an entire enterprise.”

What to measure? “Measuring well-being alone is not necessarily super actionable,” Dr. Leep Hunderfund said. “It’s worth thinking about how to link the measures of well-being to other information,” such as various drivers of well-being, including workload, leadership behaviors and fairness.

How to measure? “Well-being lends itself to self-report,” she said, but measurement is also constrained by cost, validity and reliability, among other things. “Is this measure worded in a way that is applicable to all of our educators?”

Educator Well-Being in Academic Medicine is the product of the AMA ChangeMedEd Initiative, formerly known as the Accelerating Change in Medical Education Initiative, to better understand well-being in the medical education setting. Download your solutions-focused guide to improving educator well-being now.