Physician Health

One way to prevent burnout: Give young doctors chances to connect

Marc Zarefsky , Contributing News Writer

Burnout continues to plague doctors across the country, with 53% of U.S. physicians reporting at least one symptom of burnout last year.

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In an effort to help health systems understand what institutional factors are contributing to that burnout, the AMA launched the Organizational Biopsy® (PDF), an assessment tool that provides a comprehensive evaluation across four domains: organizational culture, practice efficiency, self-care and retention.

Leaders from Hattiesburg Clinic, a physician-owned and -governed health system in Southern Mississippi, completed the Organizational Biopsy. While Hattiesburg performed better than the national average on almost every performance indicator, a surprising result emerged. Early career physicians experienced a significantly higher rate of burnout compared to the rest of the organization.

"We found it important at that point to start investigating and find out why that might be true so that we could do something about it," said Rebecca Lauderdale, MD, physician well-being champion at Hattiesburg Clinic, which is a member of the AMA Health System Program that provides enterprise solutions to equip leadership, physicians and care teams with resources to help drive the future of medicine.

Dr. Lauderdale discussed how the Hattiesburg Clinic responded and what was learned from talking with those early-career physicians as part of a recent episode of “AMA Update.”

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The Hattiesburg Clinic features about 300 physician partners, but with offices spread across a 19-county area, most only work with one or two other physicians in their office. That dispersed workforce was a key factor in why many physicians said they were looking for more social connection among their colleagues. The early career physicians, in particular, said they wanted to know more about their partners and staff in other departments.

Hattiesburg Clinic responded with a number of new initiatives, including a party at the Hattiesburg Zoo, where more than 2,500 employees and their families were able to get to know each other better.

Additionally, Hattiesburg hosted a series of physician dinners in which smaller groups of physician partners got to connect in a more intimate setting.

"We talked about our practices, the things that bring us joy in our practice, the things that people misunderstand about how we practice, and the ways that we can support each other in how we communicate and how we care for patients together," Dr. Lauderdale said. "We got unanimously very positive feedback for those dinners. And they gave us some more ideas for things to do as we go forward."

One of those ideas had to do with the EHR. Inefficiencies with EHRs are another major stressor for physicians that can lead to burnout, so Hattiesburg Clinic tried something different.

They tried to make the EHR fun.

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When major updates were planned for the EHR—ones that were expected to cause significant changes to workflow—Hattiesburg Clinic turned the rollouts into opportunities to gather.

These rollouts were called “happy hours,” and featured activities such as scavenger hunts that related to the updates, as well as door prizes and other interaction opportunities.

"We turned it into a social event and we had a really great turnout," Dr. Lauderdale said. "We had people who were able to experience the changes before they rolled out. They were able to ask questions. And it just went a lot more smoothly."

AMA Update” is your source for physician-focused news. Hear from physicians and other experts on trending public health concerns, practice issues and more—because who’s doing the talking matters. Catch every episode by subscribing to the AMA’s YouTube channel or listen to all AMA podcasts at