Strong Organizational Leadership May Help Prevent Physician Burnout, Suggests Mayo Clinic Study

The leadership qualities of physician supervisors appear to improve physician satisfaction levels and reduce rates of physician burnout in health care organizations. This is the conclusion of a study published in the April 2015 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Why are these results so important?

A recent Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED) member survey found that 82 percent of physician respondents said either they or a physician colleague had experienced burnout during their career. Physician burnout is not an isolated issue affecting a few individuals.

Physicians are increasingly employed by large health care organizations, the Mayo Clinic study says. Over 75 percent of physicians are now considered employed physicians. That represents a shift from the old model in which most practitioners practiced either independently or in small group practices.

With the changes in practice setting come new challenges for physicians including:

  • The loss of autonomy
  • The need to meet productivity requirements set by an organization
  • Accountability to physician leadership

If an organization isn’t successful in acknowledging and addressing these challenges, it may end up facing issues like burnout, high physician turnover, and a reduction in the overall quality of patient care.

Background on the Study
In October 2013, the Mayo Clinic surveyed its physicians and received nearly 3,000 responses. Supervisors were scored on 12 leadership dimensions.

Physicians were given a five-point Likert scale to rate their supervisors on eleven statements that included “empowers me to do my job” and “is interested in my opinion.” They were also asked to rate their overall satisfaction with their immediate supervisor.

The composite leadership scores strongly correlated with the burnout and satisfaction scores of individual physicians, even after adjustments were made for age, sex, duration of employment, and specialty. Each one-point increase in a composite leadership score for a supervisor was associated with a 3.3 per cent decrease in in the likelihood of burnout and a 9.0 per cent increase in physician satisfaction.

A correlation between leadership and physician satisfaction was also found at the departmental level. The composite leadership rating of departmental or divisional chairs correlated with a reduced likelihood of burnout and an increased likelihood of physician satisfaction.

“On a simple level, leadership matters,” said Tait Shanefelt, MD, first author of the study, in a video created by the Mayo Clinic.

Cutting-Edge Leadership Education from PAMED Can Help

“Many of the leadership qualities we evaluated in these dimensions were specific and teachable behaviors, such as keeping people informed, encouraging reports to suggest ideas for improvement, having career development conversations, providing feedback and coaching, and recognizing a job well done,” the Mayo Clinic study noted. In other words, leaders can be trained and developed.

PAMED has long been aware of the need for strong physician leadership and offers an extensive suite of leadership education services designed to meet the needs of both individuals and groups.

Here’s a look at three innovative ways that hospitals and practices with PAMED member physicians have been using PAMED’s leadership education:

  • Building a sense of unity—A hospital in eastern Pennsylvania selected a group webinar package and invited 30 physicians from specialty and primary care practices in the community to view webinars as a group. Quarterly webinar viewings were followed by PAMED-facilitated group discussions.
  • Improving communications and expectations—A large multi-specialty practice in western Pennsylvania enrolled its CMO and its hospitalist leader in the Year-Round Leadership Academy as a team to facilitate shared visions and better communications.
  • Aligning goals and vision—Physicians and practice managers from independent practices operating under the umbrella of a health care organization in Central PA used online independent study combined with on-site training in order to identify opportunities for standardizing values and quality goals across the practices.

Other PAMED resources:

  • Physician burnout and resilience education:
    • Physician Burnout: Resolution and Restoration (CME online, on-demand course)
    • Physician Resilience (two-part CME online, on-demand course)
    • Alleviating Physician Burnout (CME activity)

Foundation resources:

The Foundation of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, PAMED’s philanthropic affiliate, offers resources for physicians who are facing personal difficulties. The Foundation’s Physicians’ Health Programs (PHP) provides support and advocacy to physicians struggling with addiction or psychological challenges.

Access this online, on-demand course about support groups for physicians in recovery, presented by Clifford Lyons, MD, Medical Director for the PHP. Organizational leaders and colleagues looking to help team members, as well as physicians who may be facing challenges like addiction, will find insights and resources.