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Protecting Our Most Precious Healthcare Resource: Clinicians

By Alan H. Rosenstein, MD, MBA  /  24 Mar 2014

Clinician exhaustion occurs far more than the average person may think, and there is a growing amount of research pointing to the increasing amount of stress and burnout and its negative impact on clinician lives and performance. For example, a 2012 survey – conducted by Physician Wellness Services in Minneapolis, MN, and Cejka Search of St. Louis, MO – showed that nearly two-thirds of physicians identify themselves as being more stressed or burned out compared to three years prior. But with an increasingly aging population coming to us with more complex health issues to manage, clinicians are the most valuable resource we have at our fingertips. They need to be protected.

Unfortunately, clinician exhaustion is a complex issue involving a variety of different factors including genetics, upbringing, and other life experiences later accentuated by the hardships of medical training and the realities of today’s medical environment. Culture isn’t an easy thing to change, but there are three key steps to tackling this problem for our clinicians:

  1. Raise awareness – Organizations need to recognize the negative impact of stress and burnout on clinicians and provide appropriate programs and support to enhance physical and mental well-being to restore satisfaction, energy and performance. And clinicians need to recognize that they are working under increasing amounts of stress, acknowledge it and take steps to mitigate its effect. Much of the stress and burnout begins in medical school and is now exacerbated by the growing pressures for change resulting from Health Care Reform and other regulatory issues. We can’t leave it up to physicians to take the initiative to address these issues by themselves but we are now seeing progress being made as many of them are starting to take advantage of supportive programs or reduced work-hour commitments to encourage and support time for relaxation and recuperation.
  2. Offer support – Unfortunately, stress caused by health care reform and CMS policies are left in the hands of governmental politics, lobbyists and influential medical societies. But there is definitely room for opportunity to address work-related stress factors. Providing support services to help with completion and documentation of administrative tasks and adjusting call schedules will allow more free time for clinicians to do what they want to do, which is to treat patients. Most clinicians also recognize the need to relax, take time off, spend time with family, exercise and enjoy recreational activities, but aren’t able to set aside enough time for this. They need to be able to say no and organizations need to recognize the importance of offering a better work-life balance for the clinical staff.
  3. Be proactive – Don’t wait until it’s too late and your clinical staff is dropping like flies to implement policies to help manage their stress levels. Physicians, nurses and all supporting staff need to be regarded as a precious resource. Providing resources proactively will go a long way toward improving overall satisfaction, energy, engagement, productivity and care efficiency. Services can include providing programs on stress management, time management and business management. Some may benefit from individualized coach or counseling. Many of these programs can be offered though a physician wellness committee, human resources or medical staff services, or outsourced to companies specializing in physician support services.

Clinicians have dedicated their lives to the practice of medicine. They work hard and sacrifice deeply in their quest to provide the best patient care. But clinicians may soon be in short supply. We need to do all we can to help them.

Posted By Alan H. Rosenstein, MD, MBA
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