Promoting physician well-being takes more than words

Tanya Albert Henry , Contributing News Writer

AMA News Wire

Promoting physician well-being takes more than words

Dec 9, 2023

One lesson learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is that uncertainty drives anxiety, a contributing factor to physician burnout.

So how can health care leaders reduce physician anxiety and in turn promote physician well-being in their organization?


More broadly, enhancing the organization’s communication so that it promotes a culture of well-being in which physicians and other employees feel valued and cared for, according to Jonathan Ripp, MD, MPH.

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.

“Words do matter and they can be very helpful in conveying thanks, but they are not sufficient,” said Dr. Ripp, who is chief and senior associate dean of well-being and resilience at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

More important is the need to listen to the physicians and other health professionals in your organization, empower them to accomplish positive change, and for leaders to take action, Dr. Ripp said during an AMA webinar on well-being communications strategies.

Such communications strategies are one part of a recently released AMA STEPS Forward® playbook on wellness-centered leadership, which explores how leaders can develop a culture of wellness across their organizations.

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Wellness-centered leadership refers to the idea that the behaviors of health care leaders influence the organizational culture, which is a powerful driver of well-being for physicians and other health professionals. The playbook—released as newly published research shows that most hospitals fail to tackle physician burnout comprehensively—delves into building trust, giving and receiving feedback, prioritizing clinician well-being, and making unit changes effectively.

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.

Just telling employees that they are valued or thanking them verbally is not enough, Dr. Ripp said. Leaders also need to take action. Following the listen-sort-empower model can help leaders more effectively engage and communicate with their employees by actively listening and taking action.

That involves listening to what people in the organization have to say about what works well and what needs improvement as it relates to workflow, team dynamics, communication, quality or other areas.

Next, sort the feedback into items that:

  • Are feasible and would have a high impact.
  • Are feasible with a low impact.
  • Would have a high impact, but are not feasible.
  • Would have a low impact and are not feasible.

The focus should be on first making the changes that are feasible and would have a high impact and then the feasible changes with low impact.

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Become a member and help the AMA tackle the key causes of burnout to provide relief for physicians.

Finally, the health care organization should empower and support physicians and other health professionals to develop and implement solutions to ease frustrations and inefficiencies.

As these changes are made, it’s important to communicate to physicians what is being done. The work to promote well-being is only useful if the intended recipients know what’s going on, Dr. Ripp said.

Related Coverage

Most hospitals fail to tackle physician burnout comprehensively

A leader, such as a chief wellness officer, should oversee a communications strategy that promotes well-being. That leader needs to coordinate with other departments—for example, human resources and marketing and communications —about the messaging and come up with a strategy to communicate.

Well-being communication strategy also needs to:

  • Address informational needs.
  • Deliver informative messaging that reaches the intended audience.
  • Provide information related to organizational support.
  • Use a tone that engenders a sense of caring.

Dr. Ripp said one way to ensure that busy physicians are getting communication in the right fashion is to ask them directly. Conduct a survey or hold a focus group to find out how to best communicate with them. Health care organizations also can form a committee to revise or edit messages so that they are streamlined and strike the right tone.