This road map helps health systems address physician burnout

Sara Berg, MS , News Editor

The COVID-19 pandemic magnified longstanding issues that accelerated the physician burnout rate in the U.S. to an all-time high of 63%. This signaled the ever-growing need for chief wellness officers like Jennifer Bickel, MD, at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, to have an organizational strategy. 

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.

While having several years of experience in organizational well-being, but new to her role at Moffitt, Dr. Bickel knew she needed a baseline measure of burnout to determine system drivers. Luckily, due to her prior experience and working relationship with the AMA, she knew well-being leaders don’t need to recreate the wheel.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have national models from the AMA—as well as the National Academy of Medicine—otherwise it’s just Jennifer Bickel showing up with her opinions,” said Dr. Bickel, who also chairs the American Academy of Neurology Wellness Subcommittee and is part of the National Academy of Medicine Action Collaborative. “It is so important because burnout makes everybody opinionated.”

“What I mean by that in a world that has so many opinions, they are sometimes passionately at opposition with each other,” she said, noting “it does require these national models to move forward,” which the AMA can provide.

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.

To enhance organizational well-being at Moffitt, Dr. Bickel leaned into the AMA for guidance.

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Being able to do the burnout survey—provided free of charge in support of the AMA’s mission focus—is “always beneficial because then the money that you would spend on surveying can actually be spent on other things,” explained Dr. Bickel. Another benefit was customizing “the survey to meet our organization’s specific needs including a detailed assessment on appreciation preferences.”

“I’ve been doing surveys for a long time and the support, the responsiveness, the level of expertise, the commitment to us being successful with this was outstanding,” said Dörte Heimbeck, PhD, associate chief wellness officer at Moffitt. “I’ve never experienced anything like that. It’s a remarkable team to work with.”

On top of the support, “we were able to then benchmark the data and play with it however we wanted in that data set,” said Dr. Bickel. “We still continue to pull into that data set.” 

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

But it is also important to note that “a survey without action is anti-wellness,” said Dr. Bickel. That is why it has been key to meet the criteria detailed in the AMA Joy in Medicine™ Health System Recognition Program, which has served as “a road map” (PDF).

“I even remember at my interview saying that this was going to be the scaffolding that we follow within the first 18 months. It helps provide the rationale for those things to move forward,” she said.

Moffitt would go on to earn bronze recognition in the program for 2022. Other organizations can do the  same by completing an application for the program by submitting their intent to apply before midnight on March 17.

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“Whenever you’re creating ideas such as peer support or stress first aid training, you’re able to say this is upheld by the AMA as one of the things that we can do,” Dr. Bickel said, sharing that the AMA de-implementation checklist (PDF) has also helped guide Moffitt in making changes to cut administrative burdens.

“We used the de-implementation checklist within the first few months for benchmarking with medical informatic leaders as well as quality and safety,” she said, emphasizing that “having those tools and frameworks has been really essential.”

“It’s so refreshing and it’s nurturing because doing wellness work is not for the faint of heart,” said Heimbeck. “It’s a long-distance sport where one really needs to feed off incremental change and improvement and have that be enough to sustain alone on this journey.”

Editor’s note: A version of this article was originally published in Becker’s Hospital Review under the headline, “As burnout continues to impact physicians, well-being must be a health system priority.”