Mayo Clinic: 9 ways to engage physicians, prevent burnout

Without an engaged physician workforce, healthcare leaders will be hard-pressed to meet their organizational objectives and missions.

Yet many hospital execs leave it up to individual physicians to handle problems with burnout and job dissatisfaction.

A new paper from the Mayo Clinic Proceedings argues that the organization and physicians must tackle the problem of physician burnout together.

The article outlines nine inexpensive strategies that the Mayo Clinic has successfully implemented to improve physician engagement.

“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,” write John H. Noseworthy, M.D., president and CEO of Mayo Clinic, and Tait D. Shanafelt, director of the program on physician well-being at the Rochester, Minnesota-based organization.

Here are their suggestions:

  1. Admit there is a problem and then assess it: The medical staff at Mayo appreciates the chance to have open discussions with Noseworthy. The organization provides many opportunities for physicians to talk about the problems they face via different formats, including town halls, radio broadcasts, face-to-face meetings and video interviews. To make sure the organization stays on top of doctors' professional satisfaction, Mayo measures engagement and satisfaction with work-life integration every year
  2. Identify physician leaders: The authors suggest that healthcare leaders look for physicians who have the ability to listen to, engage, develop and lead physicians. But then the organization must help develop and train these leaders. To make sure their physician leaders are meeting their goals, Mayo has the physicians who work at the organization evaluate their supervisors.
  3. Develop interventions to prevent burnout: Three years ago Mayo 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 has helped Mayo doctors get away from feeling like victims in a broken system and instead feel empowered to work with leaders to make necessary changes, the article notes.
  4. Encourage peer support: Mayo has a dedicated meeting area stocked with fruit and beverages where physicians can gather. The organization has also experimented with other community at work programs, such as small group meetings and a pilot program in which doctors shared meals at a local restaurant every two weeks. These offerings helped physicians discuss the ups and downs of practicing medicine.
  5. Offer incentives: Some physicians are motivated by financial rewards, but that can backfire if the model provides room for doctors to overwork, thus leading to more burnout. Noseworthy and Shanafelt suggest that organizations consider 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: Mayo uses an all-staff survey to evaluate how well the organization meets its values. When the 2011 results came back that physicians thought the organization was less committed to staff, leaders established a task force to identify what went wrong. The group worked with physicians and senior leaders to determine areas for improvement, and the document is used to this day for recruitment and onboarding.
  7. Encourage work-life balance: Many doctors work more than 60 hours per week, and the demands make it difficult for physicians to have a personal life. Organizations can help by offering physicians flexible work schedules, so they can start the workday earlier or later or work longer hours certain days a week so they can leave earlier on other days.
  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.