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Keeping Burnout at Bay: How Healthcare Administrators are Stepping Up to Help Struggling Clinicians

How Healthcare Administrators are Stepping Up to Help Struggling Clinicians

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to fill hospitals with sick patients and new variants emerge, healthcare workers continue to be pushed to the brink like never before. It’s the reason why entire global summits are being dedicated to burnout. It’s the reason why we’re seeing clinicians quitting at an alarming rate. And, it’s the reason why we’re so concerned about the threat of physician shortages to come.

Burnout is real, and it’s not going away anytime soon. On a positive note, we’ve come a long way in acknowledging the importance of mental health across the board—but especially when it comes to our essential, front-line workers. To that end, many hospital leaders have started taking action on burnout.

Healthcare Administrators Are Taking Action

In the article 26 Hospital Leaders on the Most Important Change They’ve Made to Address Burnout written by Cailey Gleeson of Becker’s Hospital Review, we are given a glimpse into what healthcare administrators are doing to reduce burnout.

When administrators were asked about the most important change they have made or initiative they have implemented to address burnout, their responses provided insight into what the measures hospital leaders are taking to understand burnout from a clinician’s point of view.

According to Griffin Myers, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Oak Street Health in Chicago, it is essential to come at the solutions from a first-person perspective. “We have spent a lot of time understanding what causes burnout and what helps prevent and reverse it, and if we’ve learned anything it’s that there’s no single answer,” he said.

“An organization must start with a strong commitment to its values, values that clinicians share and have spent their life pursuing, and then complement those values with the tools and resources to support clinicians in that mission.”

User-Friendly Tools and Resources at the Ready for Clinicians

One such set of solutions comes from the American Medical Association. These award-winning, CME-eligible resources “tackle burnout at its root,” according to AMA’s website. “Practical tools give healthcare organizations a way to assess burnout at the system level and develop targeted solutions to support physician well-being.”

In the “Burnout and Well-Being” section alone, there are 15 specific toolkits that offer strategies on how to engage health system leadership, how to understand and address physician burnout and how to develop a culture that supports physician well-being.

As an example, one toolkit delves into how the burnout problem plaguing healthcare today is organizational, not personal.

It then provides step-by-step advice of how clinicians can get in front of burnout, including how to stop doing unnecessary work and how to incorporate practice fundamentals, among other solution-based suggestions and tips.

The Importance of Discussing Mental Health

Fortunately, discussions about mental health are much more prominent than ever before. While it was previously a subject that many felt was too taboo to discuss, there is now an open dialogue about its importance. Mental health is health, after all—and too many clinicians have been sweeping their own under the rug for far too long.

“I think the most important change that came from the COVID-19 pandemic was that healthcare worker mental health became a normalized topic of discussion,” said Angela Myers, MD, Division Director of Infectious Diseases, and Interim Medical Director for Center for Professional Wellbeing at Children’s Mercy Kansas City (Mo.) in the Becker’s Hospital Review article.

“Once burnout, anxiety and depression are called out, we can then utilize strategies to improve these issues. You must first recognize the problem exists and acknowledge it before you can make it better.”

Now that it’s all on the table and out in the open, administrators are doing their part to take better care of those who take such good care of everyone else.

“Sanford Health has built a culture of well-being through small peer groups, trainings, mentorship, a clinician assistance program that provides confidential counseling, a clinician wellness council and other programs that provide support at the organizational level and encourage self-care, wellness and a healthy work-family-life balance,” said Heather Spies, MD, Physician Director of Clinician Experience and Well-Being with Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, SD.

Yes, you read that correctly: “Director of Clinician Experience and Well-Being.” There are now hospital systems who have not only recognized the need for clinicians’ well-being, but actually dedicated physician personnel solely to ensure those needs are met.

At Colorado Springs Memorial Hospital, meeting the needs of overwhelmed clinicians came in the form of an updated space. “We redesigned our physician lounge as a hub for social connection for clinicians, who were often siloed in their work environments,” according to Robert Lam, MD, who is an Emergency Medicine Physician and Director of Physician Wellness.

“We saw immediate returns on this investment, including increased use of the space for social connection and mentoring, along with clinical collaboration among specialties. We also launched a peer support program for all of our clinicians that is both reactive to critical incidents but also proactive for clinicians who are showing early signs of distress.”

In a healthcare landscape that is far too full of distressed, overwhelmed clinicians, we think the motto of Atrium Health in Charlotte, N.C. says it best. “We have a saying with Atrium Health,” said Scott Rissmiller, MD, who is the Executive Vice President and Chief Physician Executive.

“Self-care leads to best care.”

We couldn’t agree more.

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