When physicians are burned out, transformational change needs to happen. But the gap between the magnitude of change and the ability of organizations to manage it continues to widen. Physicians and leaders in their organizations must not only change what they do, but they must also change the way they think. Here is how to use transformational change to improve a health care organization’s culture and cut physician burnout.


Free for 2 years with AMA membership. Learn meditation & mindfulness in just a few minutes/day with guided meditations on topics like stress & sleep.

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. 

Transformational change “is a radical shift from one state of being to another state of being so significant that it requires a shift in mindset, behavior and culture to implement successfully and sustain over time,” said Kevin Taylor, MD, the AMA’s director of organizational transformation. He spoke at the 2019 American Conference on Physician Health, co-sponsored by the AMA, Mayo Clinic and Stanford Medicine.

Dr. Taylor outlined how to approach transformational change in your organization by breaking it down into three phases: head, heart and hands.

Related Coverage

Physician burnout: The pledge your organization should make now

This is the “head” phase because it is where information is provided, including some key engagement strategies. Managing change begins by establishing healthy relationships with your physician colleagues. Therefore, the first step in change management is to identify who your stakeholders are and engage them early and often.

“You have to develop those relationships with your teams in order to make this work,” said Dr. Taylor.

To promote understanding, leaders need to address three questions:

  • What’s in it for me?
  • What’s in it for my organization, my team and patients?
  • Do we have the resources to do this?

These are three questions almost everyone asks when facing a transformational change. As a change leader, being aware of these questions, listening for them in their various forms, staying curious to surface them and being prepared to engage in conversations about them will be very helpful in beginning the discussions on change.

This is considered the “heart” of transformational change because “you’re thinking about what really inspires me to be on this journey,” said Dr. Taylor, adding that a great way to approach this is with stories.

“Physicians are motivated by data and evidence. That is how we have been trained. We are also compelled by stories because it engages our deeply held values of putting our patients first,” Dr. Taylor added in an interview with the AMA.

Leaders at health care organizations should be thinking about what is important to their physicians and other health professionals, and how to articulate that in a story.

Related Coverage

Physician well-being: Why organizational change matters

The last phase is considered the “hands” portion because it shows the action, with teams pulling together specific changes and outlining what the results will be. Once you get to commitment, the team is ready to do the work of change.

It is important to realize that some of physicians and team members will resist the change process. They are the vocal ones who are expressing their concerns. It can be tempting to dismiss such concerns and perspectives, Dr. Taylor acknowledged. But people in resistance need to be listened to, validated and supported by their leaders.

“Those leaders need to be on the front lines with their teams, understanding what their experiences are and being able to listen effectively,” he said, adding that “there is energy in resistance. Leaders need to stay open to their concerns and feelings and listen to understand.”

By doing that, Dr. Taylor said, then “you can engage them in having a collective experience, which leads to loyalty and trust and the resisters will become champions for the new transformational change.”

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.  

Static Up
Featured Stories