Physician Health

Hospitalist burnout: 5 ways for leaders to tackle growing problem

Hospital medicine is the fastest growing medical specialty in the nation and burnout among these physicians, who face a unique set of stressors, is growing rapidly as well. Among other challenges, hospitalists are responsible for 24/7 patient care and have an atypical work schedule disrupts personal and family time.

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An AMA STEPS Forward™ open-access module helps hospitalist group leaders and hospital leadership recognize what is contributing to these physicians’ burnout and understand what steps leadership can implement to prevent burnout and improve wellness.

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.

The STEPS Forward CME  module, “Hospitalist Well-Being: Maximize Engagement and Minimize Burnout for Hospitalists,” is enduring material and designated by the AMA for a maximum of 0.5 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit. Learn more about AMA CME accreditation.

With about 55% of hospitalists experiencing burnout symptoms, the module suggests that promoting autonomy, master and purpose will increase the likelihood of long-term career stability and growth in the field. The module, developed in partnership with the American College of Physicians and the Society of Hospital Medicine, details five steps leaders can take to promote joy in the practice of hospital medicine.

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Understand burnout at your hospital

Besides atypical work schedules, hospitalists face unique burnout drivers because they have limited academic opportunities, are pressured to care for patients outside their scope of practice, work in a relatively new field and face competing priorities from different stakeholders. For example, hospitalists work to minimize the hospital stay while also working to prevent readmission and they must expedite patient discharges while also being thorough.

To assess hospitalists’ burnout, leaders should conduct a needs assessment and repeat it annually. Surveys on burnout, individual goals and group goals—which can be taken anonymously and offer an area for free text comments—are a good starting point. In-person, small group discussions can be used to foster a deeper understanding.

Learn more with the AMA about how organizational changes lead to physician satisfaction.

Minimize burnout, maximize engagement

Burnout increases when a physician feels a lack of autonomy, mastery or purpose. For example, how much control do hospitalists have over their workload and schedule options? Do they feel their workload is manageable so they can excel at it and do they have control over their scope of practice? Is there a common vision and mission?

Engagement aims to bolster autonomy, master and purpose. It comes from fostering a sense of community, cultivating academic excitement, providing professional development opportunities and minimizing exhaustion.

Promote self-care, resilience

There are several factors of resilience that are unique to hospitalists. For example, night shifts can lead to insomnia and sleep disturbances, so resilience should focus on cultivating sleep hygiene and regular exercise.

Also, complex patients can involve more serious events such as codes and deaths, so resilience should focus on dealing with death and dying. Mindfulness exercises, medication, reflective writing and peer support groups, too, can increase hospitalists’ resilience.

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Talk often, and across specialties

Good and frequent communication with other specialties, support staff and other stakeholders can help collaboration and minimize the “us” versus “them” feeling.

Monthly communication via email, newsletters, webpages, signs, meetings or a combination of these forms is a must. Work groups also can be a way to increase engagement and input into problem solving.

Recognize and reward

Developing and implementing a comprehensive reward and recognition program is inexpensive way to promote collegiality and teamwork and show the hospital medicine group’s value. Learn more about the AMA Joy in Medicine Recognition Program.

The STEPS Forward module is part of the AMA Ed Hub™, an online platform with high-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.

Another module worth your time is “Physician Well-Being: Protect Against Burnout and Encourage Self-Care.”