Physician burnout — described as emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and a loss of a feeling of personal accomplishment — starts long before doctors even complete their residency programs. A recent study found that resident physicians are at high risk of depression, with symptoms becoming more prevalent as the school year progresses. Now physician leaders are taking steps to nurture well-being for both new doctors and long-standing health care professionals. Here are three things they can do.
1. Reduce Time Pressure for Physicians
Time pressure is a contributing factor to psychological stress and occurs when physicians have limited time to complete tasks at work. This type of stress could result in physician burnout and influence how health care professionals make important decisions. Physicians often experience time pressure when dealing with patients in a medical facility. Patient appointments might be restricted to just 10 or 15 minutes, for example — not always enough time for a physician to make a diagnosis. Physician leaders might expect physicians to complete administrative work during this time, too.
Physicians leaders can reduce time pressure by extending appointment times and setting aside time at the end of the day for administrative tasks and patient call-backs. Longer appointments and less paperwork help physicians improve their quality of care.
2. Reduce Working Hours for Physicians
The average physician work week is longer than most other occupations, according to research, with 36 percent of physicians working between 40 and 50 hours. (Five percent of physicians say they work more than 80 hours a week.) Most aren't happy with their long shifts, either: half of all physicians say they prefer to work fewer hours.
Physician leaders can lighten the workload by implementing a maximum number of consecutive and total working hours, as well as insisting on proper rest between shifts and a minimum number of non-working days. Research shows that shorter work days boosts productivity, too. Nurses who work six-hour days are 20 percent happier and have more energy in the workplace. Other studies show the positive correlation between a short work week and a satisfying work-life balance.
3. Create CME Programs That Help Physicians Deal With Stress
Fifty-four percent of physicians confessed to at least one symptom of burnout in 2014 — up from 45.5 percent in 2011. But these professionals can moderate stress long before burnout, says the American Medical Association Journals of Ethics. Some techniques that reduce stress include managing time more effectively at work and talking to senior staff about their problems. Proper stress management training is also a good idea.
Physician leaders can create continuing medical education programs that help their staff deal with organizational pressures. These provide physicians with coping mechanisms they can utilize in a medical environment, including stress reduction strategies, breathing exercises and mindfulness. Programs might take the form of live webinars, seminars, lectures or one-to-one training.
Nearly 87 percent of physicians are moderately or severely stressed at work, according to a survey. Moreover, 85 percent of these physicians say their organizations don't do anything to help them deal with stress. The interventions on the above list could help solve this growing problem, resulting in happier, more relaxed physicians. Healthcare leaders can also improve physician welfare with the Well-Being Index, an anonymous, self-assessment tool that measures happiness among physicians. Demo the Well-Being Index here!