Report: Mayo Clinic suggests nine ways to prevent physician burnout

Accreditation Insider, November 22, 2016

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The high rate of burnout and unengaged physicians and nurses is an increasing concern for the healthcare industry.  Burnout is characterized by exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced effectiveness. It’s also a proven influence on care quality, patient safety, physician turnover, and patient satisfaction. However, industry attempts to engage with physicians have been haphazard at best. The Mayo Clinic recently released a new paper on preventing burnout, emphasizing the need for individual physicians and hospital leaders to work together on this problem.

“The reality is that an engaged physician workforce is requisite to achieving institutional objectives, that small investments can have a large impact, and that many effective interventions are cost neutral,” wrote John Noseworthy, MD, president and CEO of the Mayo Clinic, and Tait D. Shanafelt, the Mayo Clinic’s director of the program on physician well-being, in the report.

1.    Admit there is a problem and then assess it:
Provide your medical staff with many opportunities to talk about the problems they face. These discussions can be done in many different formats: town halls, radio broadcasts, face-to-face meetings and video interviews. Use these discussions to measure engagement and satisfaction with work-life integration each year.

2.    Identify physician leaders: Healthcare leaders must look for physicians with the ability to listen to, engage, develop, and lead physicians. But then the organization must help develop and train these leaders. Staff should also be given a chance to evaluate their physician leaders.

3.    Develop interventions to prevent burnout: Three years ago, the Mayo Clinic identified departments that had burnout rates higher than the national average. To address satisfaction, administrators worked with medical staff to discuss the problems and how the organization might make changes to help improve satisfaction. “This approach helps transform physicians' mindset from that of a victim in a broken system to an engaged and empowered partner working constructively with leaders to shape their own future,” researchers wrote.

4.    Encourage peer support: Mayo has used “community-at-work” methods such as providing a dedicated physician meeting area stocked with snacks. The clinic also established small group meetings and a “physician’s night out” where staff eat dinner together at a local restaurant every two weeks.

5.    Offer incentives: Financial rewards can work, but their use can backfire if physicians overwork themselves trying to make more cash. Noseworthy and Shanafelt suggest salaried compensation models or rewards that offer greater flexibility and time for physicians to pursue aspects of work most meaningful to them.

6.    Make sure the hospital’s culture will achieve its overall mission: In 2011, Mayo’s all-staff survey results revealed that its physicians thought the organization was less committed to staff. The clinic’s leaders established a task force to identify what went wrong, working with physicians and senior leaders to determine areas for improvement. The resulting document is used to this day for recruitment and onboarding.

7.    Encourage work-life balance: A flexible work schedule can be a huge boon for physicians. Establish a system where physicians can start the workday earlier or later or work longer hours certain days a week so they can leave earlier on other days. This can be a huge relief to a physician, especially considering many of them work more than 60 hours per week.

8.    Give doctors resources for self-care: Noseworthy and Shanafelt suggest that organizations give individual physicians the necessary resources and training in skills to promote resilience. These tools must address work-life integration, fitness, sleep, diet, relationships and hobbies.

9.    Support evidence-based strategies that promote physician engagement: Mayo launched a program on physician well-being in 2007 to develop benchmarks to help reduce burnout.


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