Physician Health

More physician satisfaction, less burnout: Why leadership qualities matter


Physician leaders have a significant impact on the well-being and satisfaction of the physicians they supervise, according to a new study. Learn which leadership qualities are essential to promote healthy professional environments that reduce the likelihood of physician burnout.

Physician leaders who inform, engage, inspire, develop and recognize the physicians they supervise are more likely to have employees who feel professionally satisfied and less likely to show signs of burnout, a study published in the April issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings found.

Study authors asked Mayo Clinic physicians to rate their immediate physician supervisor on a scale from 1 to 5 for leadership qualities, such a how well the supervisor does in holding development conversations; inspiring them to do their best; treating them with respect and dignity; recognizing them for a job well done; and empowering them to do their jobs.

Overall, 38 percent of the nearly 3,900 physicians surveyed reported high emotional exhaustion, 15 percent reported high depersonalization and 40 percent reported at least one symptom of burnout. Nearly 80 percent were satisfied or very satisfied with the organization, while 9 percent were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied.

After adjusting for age, sex, duration of employment at Mayo Clinic and specialty, the study authors found that leadership ratings had a strong association with burnout and satisfaction for the individual physicians.

“At the work unit level, 11 percent of the variation in burnout and 47 percent of the variation in satisfaction with the organization was explained by the leadership rating of the division/department chairperson,” the authors wrote. “This is remarkable when one considers the extent of other factors that influence satisfaction (e.g., salary, workload expectations, specialty, culture, strategic direction of the organization, personality conflicts and opportunities for professional development).”

In contrast, the authors noted, the leaders’ own level of burnout was not related to the prevalence of burnout in the division or department.

Researchers said organizations need to provide physician leaders with the training they need to be effective. Often physician leaders are selected based on their clinical acumen, scientific expertise or reputation, rather than on the qualities necessary to be an effective leader, the authors noted.

“These factors often combine to create a circumstance in which an individual who has not been well prepared to lead is thrust into a very challenging leadership situation,” the authors said. But that can be improved by offering leadership training.

“Many of the leadership qualities we evaluated were specific and teachable behaviors, such as keeping people informed, encouraging reports to suggest ideas for improvement, having career development conversations, providing feedback and coaching and recognizing a job well done,” study authors said.

One of the study’s lead authors, Tait Shanafelt, MD, will be a featured speaker at a continuing medical education event at the 2016 AMA Annual Meeting in Chicago June 11. Dr. Shanafelt is director of the Mayo Clinic Program on Physician Well-being, and he will explore finding meaning, balance and personal satisfaction throughout medical education and in the practice of medicine. His presentation will include a look at successful individual and organizational approaches to promoting physician well-being.

The AMA’s STEPS Forward™ collection of practice solutions also offers resources for physicians on improving physician resiliencypreventing physician burnout and preventing resident and fellow burnout.