Why your strong leadership can help vanquish physician burnout

Sara Berg, MS , Senior News Writer

During a doctor’s career, the road might become rocky as frustrations mount, especially for physicians who are in leadership roles. This can affect the well-being of the physicians they lead. A rigorous training program available at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) helps target this source of burnout by enhancing leadership skills.

Physician burnout demands urgent action

The AMA is leading the national effort to solve the growing physician burnout crisis. We're working to eliminate the dysfunction in health care by removing the obstacles and burdens that interfere with patient care.

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.

There is a growing body of evidence showing the impact of organizational leadership on physician satisfaction and burnout. For example, a study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, found that leadership qualities of physician supervisors impact the well-being and satisfaction of individual doctors. Supervisors who scored high in various leadership dimensions—inspire their employees, recognize a job well done, provide helpful feedback and coaching—strongly correlated with burnout and satisfaction scores of physicians.

Having led the California Health Care Foundation Leadership Program for nearly 10 years, Sunita Mutha, MD, director of Healthforce Center at UCSF, aims to help physicians overcome leadership quandaries and enhance the way they lead, with implications for reducing burnout.

“The program helps clinicians be effective in leadership roles. It serves different needs for different people, including burnout at work and at home, and renewed sense of mission,” said Dr. Mutha, adding that since its creation in 2000 there have been a lot of changes in the training curriculum including “increasing requests to talk about change and transition in practice.”

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Each year, 32 highly qualified applicants are selected as fellows to participate in the rigorous, two-year program while fully employed in leadership roles in a variety of organizational settings. The leadership program prepares physicians and other health professionals to lead health care organizations in California and around the nation. It also creates a network of strong and effective leaders who are focused on improving the health of patients in California.

As a highly interactive program, the fellows participate in a variety of activities during and after the program.

Seminars. These in-person events focus on the skills and competencies that physicians need to effectively lead and advance in executive leadership positions. The sessions provide interactive, experiential lessons that allow clinician leaders to increase their knowledge and skills, explore challenges and develop strong peer networks.

Intersession activity. Between seminars, fellows participate in a variety of activities to reinforce skills and gain new knowledge. Some of the assignments include readings, developing and implementing a capstone improvement project, and executive coaching.

Fellows are expected to devote five to 10 hours per week between sessions on program-related activities.

Peer groups. Participants are divided into teams composed of five or six fellows who meet monthly to learn, share, provide feedback and support to each other throughout the fellowship.

Coaching. Each fellow receives five hours of individual executive-development coaching. The executive coaches focus on how leadership skills, including communication, managing teams, balancing priorities, all which influence physician burnout.

Organizational project. Each fellow receives skills and support to complete a leadership project at their home institution. The goal of the health improvement projects is to address meaningful challenges or opportunities in health care. For example, one participant focused on improving patient access time for urgent referrals to specialists while others have expanded palliative care services or developed organizational capacity for population-based care.

Alumni network. After graduating from the program, the physicians join an alumni network. Alumni meet twice a year and remain very active, seeking to improve health and health care delivery in California. They do this by learning, sharing resources and collaborating across health care sectors, as they continue their leadership development.

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Leadership development may be linked to reduced burnout rates

The AMA’s STEPS Forward™ open-access modules offer innovative strategies that allow physicians and their staff to thrive in the new health care environment. These courses can help you prevent physician burnout, create the organizational foundation for joy in medicine and improve practice efficiency. One CME module specifically addresses how to create a strong team culture.

STEPS Forward is part of the AMA Ed Hub™, an online platform that consolidates all the high-quality CME, maintenance of certification, and educational content you need—in one place—with activities relevant to you, automated credit tracking and reporting for some states and specialty boards.