Stanford Medicine targets physician burnout with physician wellness officer appointment

Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge
Stanford Medicine claims to be the first academic medical school in the country to hire a chief physician wellness officer.

Stanford Medicine is so serious about addressing physician burnout, it's added a whole new office in the leadership suite. 

The academic medical center says it is the first in the country to hire a chief physician wellness officer, according to an announcement.

Stanford hired Tait Shanafelt, M.D., to become its first chief wellness officer at a time when physician burnout is a national epidemic.

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Shanafelt, who specializes in physician wellness, will take over the position this fall. He previously worked at the Mayo Clinic, which has been a leader on the issue of physician burnout. There, he led a successful initiative to counter burnout.

RELATED: Mayo Clinic's 9 ways to engage physicians, prevent burnout 

Tait Shanafelt
Tait Shanafelt, M.D.

Shanafelt said he hopes the Stanford WellMD Center, which he will direct, will become a paragon that other medical centers will want to emulate.

“I think most healthcare leaders now realize this is a threat to their organization, but there is also uncertainty that they can do anything effective to address it,” he said in the announcement.

“They say, 'It’s a national epidemic, what can we do?' My experience has shown that an individual organization that is committed to this at the highest level of leadership and that invests in well-designed interventions can move the needle and run counter to the national trend of physician distress and burnout,” he said.

RELATED: Physician burnout: Stanford University helps docs protect their own mental health

Shanafelt became director of Mayo’s Department of Medicine Program on Physician Well-Being in 2008 and launched an effort to address physician burnout through programs promoting physician autonomy, efficiency, collegiality and a sense of community. As a result of the work by him and his team, burnout rates among Mayo physicians declined 7% over two years, despite an 11% rise in the rate among doctors nationally.

RELATED: 96% of leaders say physician burnout is a problem

In an October online survey that included healthcare executives, clinical leaders and clinicians, 96% of 570 respondents said physician burnout is a serious or moderate problem in healthcare. A survey released earlier this year of more than 14,000 physicians shows that physician burnout has increased by 25% in just four years.

As well as directing the WellMD Center, Shanafelt will serve as associate dean of the School of Medicine. Lloyd Minor, M.D., dean of the medical school, welcomed Shanafelt and said he hoped he will help establish Stanford Medicine as the national leader in physician wellness.

In October, the WellMD Center will host the first American Conference on Physician Health in San Francisco, cosponsored by the American Medical Association and the Mayo Clinic.