Fix the Clinical Workplace,
Not the Clinicians
Burnout is the manifestation in an individual of significant dysfunction in that person’s workplace. Clinical workplaces today are rife with barriers and frustrations that drive burnout.
Healthcare leaders who are serious about reducing burnout engage with their clinicians by leading in a different way. It’s tempting to revert to top-down, command and control, management when dealing with the myriad of challenges today’s healthcare leaders face.
The thing is, such an approach does not work with knowledge workers, who know more about their work than their manager does, and whose job requires them to have the autonomy to make decisions and innovate quickly.
As a physician practicing family medicine for 25 years, Dr. DeChant wanted the autonomy to fix things that were not working well in his clinic. As the CEO of a 300-physician medical group, the thought of 300 doctors all fixing their problems independently the way that they saw fit, left Dr. DeChant worried that entropy would tear our group apart.
Fortunately, Dr. DeChant found an approach that empowered all of our physicians while aligning them around our enterprise-wide success. They achieved the professional fulfillment that they deserved. And the patients received the highest overall rated care among 170 medical groups across the State of California, as assessed by Consumer Reports and the California State Health Performance Information system (CSPI).
Dr. DeChant advises healthcare leaders on how they can do the same in their organizations.
Clinicians are different
We dedicate our lives to taking care of others over long hours that few other professions work. Life and death decisions are regularly in our hands.
Though we often don’t realize it, we are in positions of power to make a difference in how we do our work. Yet all too often these days it does not feel like it. We feel burned out and helpless against administration.
In a 2014 survey, 54% of physicians reported at least one symptom of burnout and under 40% reported a sense of satisfactory work-life balance. Both were much worse than a previous survey three years earlier. A follow up 2017 survey showed a decrease in burnout back to baseline rates, but no significant improvement in work-life balance, and worsening depression.
With the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, everything changed. Clinicians were overcome with exhaustion and stresses we'd never anticipated. As the pandemic wanes, clinicians, and the healthcare systems we work in, are strained to the breaking point. We still have a long way to go to ensure a fulfilling experience for patients, support staff, and physicians.
The symptoms of burnout include:
Exhaustion – physical and/or psychological
Cynicism – feeling disconnected from our organization and its purpose
Ineffectiveness – feeling like what we do doesn't matter
The reality is that our hospitals and clinics can’t function without physicians. Clinicians can take an active role in redesigning clinical care to resolve burnout symptoms and return to work-life balance.
Photo credit: Scott R. Kline
Dr. Paul DeChant, MD, MBA is an experienced physician executive, leadership coach, and expert on physician burnout with a proven approach to identify, treat, and prevent burnout in yourself and your organization.
Dr. DeChant can help your organization reduce the risk of physician burnout with his five-step process, which he has helped several professional medical organizations implement with ongoing positive results.
Dr. DeChant is also available to consult on a variety of matters related to running a medical organization, including:
Medical Group Leadership Coaching
Medical Group Mergers & Acquisitions
Physician Compensation Plans