SAN DIEGO—Efforts to fight physician burnout continue, and a panel of otolaryngologists here at the Triological Society Combined Sections Meeting shared insights on how to keep morale high and help stressed out physicians.
Explore This IssueMarch 2020
Even though “burnout” is a buzzword, the numbers are still jarring. Panel moderator Sonya Malekzadeh, MD, professor of otolaryngology at Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, DC, noted that 30% of physicians have said in surveys that they wouldn’t become a physician again if given the choice, and physicians experiencing burnout are twice as likely to commit suicide (Arch Intern Med. 2012;172:1377-1385).
“At the end of the day, what we want as physicians is to find meaning in our work and to feel professionally fulfilled,” she said. “We need a system that promotes efficiency of practice, and we need organizations and institutions to embrace a culture of wellness.”
Leadership Can Make a Difference
Alexander Chiu, MD, chair of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at the University of Kansas in Kansas City, said a department’s leadership can help keep burnout levels low—a connection that’s supported in the literature. A 2015 study found a direct correlation between the leadership score of a chief or chair and the prevalence of burnout and satisfaction (Mayo Clin Proc. 2015;90:432-440).
Other findings provide evidence that elements most impacted by department leadership, such as organization, governance, transparency, and the focus on a mission, influence burnout levels (Acad Med. 2012;87:574-581).
A recent study based on a faculty satisfaction survey at the University of Michigan found that about 28% of the otolaryngology department physicians reported burnout, as compared with an average of about 35% across departments. Otolaryngology faculty reported electronic health records, emails, clerical burdens, and insufficient time for meaningful activities as the top contributors to burnout (JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg [published online ahead of print January 2, 2020] doi: 10.1001/jamaoto.2019.3731).
Dr. Chiu said that department leaders should create a sense of mission and cultivate a culture of autonomy, accountability, and collaboration, in which open, fearless conversations are possible. He said that, as a department chair, he is always asking whether the department is following through with its plans.
“Are we doing enough? Are we closing?” he said.
In the end, physicians need to remember the value of their work. Dr. Chiu said he was recently reminded of this at the moving funeral services of a friend and colleague, Stephen Goldstein, MD, with whom he started the otolaryngology-head and neck surgery program at the University of Arizona.
“We do really cool things,” he said. “We’re teachers, we’re learners, we’re educators. We care about our community. We inspire. We do innovative research, innovative clinical care. We make a huge difference in our patients’ lives—and yet sometimes we forget all that.”