A recent CHG Healthcare survey of more than 1,200 physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and registered nurses found that 80% of providers were experiencing burnout in their careers before the COVID-19 pandemic — and 64% of those experiencing burnout said the pandemic made it worse. While numbers like these can be disheartening, it’s important to look at how your organization help providers be happier at work. Here are five ways to alleviate clinician burnout, increase job satisfaction, and improve retention.
1. Increase focus on provider engagement
Dr. Dawn Ellison, an emergency medicine physician and clinical partner engagement officer at CentraCare in Minnesota, says 75% of her time is devoted to provider engagement. She recommends addressing work environment issues first.
“Change the way meetings are conducted. You need to be able to hear from as many stakeholders as possible, because it brings more perspective and wiser solutions,” Dr. Ellison says. “We have quarterly clinical provider forums where providers spend time learning from other providers and discussing how they are implementing things. The goal is for our leaders to say, ‘This is what I heard from you, and this is how what you said is going to make a difference.’”
Dr. Ellison uses a variety of methods to increase provider engagement. She has held “wisdom circles”, an opportunity for providers to reflect on the joys and challenges of working with patients and families. She also invites physicians to participate in wellbeing retreats where they learn from speakers about different aspects of health, including diet, mindfulness, healing touch, and mental health.
“It takes a long time to increase provider engagement. I would meet with an entire department for 45 minutes and come up with a ranked list of potential solutions for drivers that would most positively affect their wellbeing, but it took two months to have a meeting,” Dr. Ellison recalls. “A better approach would be educating the people in the department who could use that process for themselves. I do individual coaching sessions and work with small units. Provider engagement is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a major culture shift.”
2. Show your providers you appreciate them
Dr. Ellison says it’s tempting to create big awards that recognize the physician of the year, but she prefers a more personal and frequent approach that is more inclusive.
“The difficult part of developing a different kind of appreciation program — down-to-earth appreciation — is that clinical partners don’t often see how other colleagues interact with patients. I’m working on figuring out how to get patients to recognize physicians,” she says. “I think a card from a department manager to your home recognizing you for something a patient said would be really appreciated. We need to practice appreciation, and one way is going around the room at the beginning or end of a meeting and saying what we appreciate about each other.”
3. Create opportunities for feedback
Dr. Debra Williams, emergency medicine physician, founder of Dr. Deb Leads, and American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) well-being committee chair, says it’s important to have healthcare providers at the table when administrative leaders are making decisions.
“These are the people who are on the front line delivering the care. Administrators have to be willing to listen and meet in the middle. If you have clinicians who are not happy, not productive, and not taking good care of patients, that affects profit margins as well,” she says. “Be sure that resources are available so that your clinicians can take the best possible care of the patients that they were trained to do. They have the expertise and knowledge and training, and they took the oath to put the patient first and take care of them.”
Talk to providers about the tools they need and ways you can improve the facility as well, Dr. Williams recommends.
“Drop the barriers of the formulary, the regulations, the things that that caused that divisiveness between administration and the clinicians. Listen to your folks about what they need,” Dr. Williams says. “It cannot be fixed until healthcare systems, organizations, contract management groups, insurers, and physicians move forward in a collaborative effort.”
4. Encourage peer-to-peer coaching and create social opportunities
One of the best ways to help physicians to feel happier at work is to encourage interpersonal connections. Dr. Williams recommends implementing peer-to-peer coaching at your facility.
“Physicians are able to have someone else to talk to, to guide them, to say, ‘Hey, I’m noticing this and that. Why don’t you join us doing this?’” she explains. “That coaching and encouragement helps — whether it’s on a daily basis with whoever we’re working with or as part of a big group of doctors.”
Encouraging social engagements can also help healthcare providers feel more welcome.
“Have a mixture of engaging tools that will help people feel they are listened to and appreciated and build camaraderie between clinicians. Maybe you pay for dinner and tell everyone you just want them to have fun,” Dr. Williams says.
5. Build a culture of safety and open communication
Eileen Jaskuta, system vice president of quality and patient safety at Main Line Health, recommends focusing on core values that encourage clinician engagement and help them feel supported.
“The first core value for us is safety, and the guiding principle around that is eliminating harm. Then we focus on quality, we would like care to be affordable for our patients, and we would like it to be equitable,” she explains. “Everybody should have goals around safety, quality, patient experience, and equity across the organization — and that’s from the leadership group down to the frontline staff.”
Jaskuta says Main Line Health holds leader meetings to discuss both patient and employee safety and to identify potential barriers. They also hold clinical environment workgroups to give employees a chance to identify other opportunities.
“Our organization is really focused on high reliability. I think if you’re constantly asking questions to understand what your barriers are, making concentrated efforts to correct issues you identify, and can keep communicating back to your workforce that you’re doing that, it helps everybody feel like they’re included in the process. Everybody knows that they have a role to play,” Jaskuta expresses. “The culture of safety here is palpable, and people are willing to speak up and let us know when they have a concern. I think if you’re proud of your organization, you certainly put your best foot forward.”
The pandemic has impacted healthcare providers in a big way. It’s more important than ever to focus on clinician satisfaction and retention, protecting your staff, your patients, and your organization.
Weatherby Healthcare can provide quality locum tenens physicians, PAs, and NPs to provide coverage at your healthcare facility. Give us a call at 954.343.3050 to learn more.