Academic Physician Burnout

Healthcare burnout is a problem in healthcare. According to the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), over 50% of physicians have reported symptoms of burnout. When healthcare burnout is discussed, it often refers to burnout in physicians, nurses, and ER staff. However, there are different causes of physician burnout by specialty. Academic physicians also fall prey to the grips of physician burnout. Today we will discuss academic medicine burnout, its causes, and the different programs that hospitals and healthcare organizations can put in place to reduce and prevent the rates of academic medicine burnout.

Academic Physician Burnout

Academic Physician Burnout causes
Physician burnout treatment, causes, and symptoms.

What is Academic Medicine Burnout

Before we move forward let us discuss what physician burnout is and how it manifests in those it affects. Burnout is something that oftentimes creeps in and catches academic physicians off guard. Some symptoms of physician burnout include psychological fatigue, a loss of personal identity, and a feeling of low performance.  These symptoms are often manifested in declining work quality, erratic work schedules (either overworking or missing work) misjudgments in work conduct, despondency, and in the most serious cases, substance abuse and suicidal tendencies. It is no surprise that academic physicians who are affected by burnout will have detrimental effects on the organization they work for including legal, financial, and reputational risk. When your team is affected by physician burnout, it can have negative effects on patient health and satisfaction; and in turn, cause more physician burnout throughout your organization.  

What Causes Academic Physician Burnout

Unlike those in settings such as emergency rooms, the physician burnout that affects those who are employed in academic organizations is not always caused by patient-related activities. In academic settings, the causes of burnout are often related to growing administrative responsibilities, especially when it comes to healthcare delivery, complex record systems, and inflexible systems that do not encourage free thought and make it harder for these leaders to achieve a balanced personal and professional lifestyle.

Academic Medical Centers are incredibly different than other types of healthcare systems. Because of their academic nature, AMCs are often environments sought out by physicians who want to advance their career through research, education, and patient care. As of late, in order to compete, these AMCs have added patient engagement and population health to their mission. This has increased the responsibilities of physicians at these organizations, but many organizations have not focused on the incentives that would make the task at hand more easily manageable for academic physicians and leaders.

Those who choose to become physician faculty tend to enjoy fluid schedules, good life-work balance, and want clearly delineated rewards. Academic physician talent is used to accountability and responsiveness in leadership. Because of the nature of Academic Medicine, those who work in this field are emboldened to explore learning opportunities, but at the same time are required to achieve the goals of the organization. This paradox makes it harder to achieve work-life balance and, in turn, increases the likeliness of academic physician burnout.

Career management is also a lead stressor for academic burnout. Making choices in career tracking to further one’s career can be a significant stressor for those who are already working to meet departmental and institutional expectations which may conflict with career goals.  

Physician faculty at AMCs are often faced with conflicting information regarding personal remuneration for clinical activities that do not line up with teaching and other academic responsibilities.

The final aspect that falls into the causes of Academic Physician Burnout is personal issues; particularly time management that may make it more difficult to encourage healthy family time and activities; as well as financial burdens such as child and parent care.

How to deal with physician burnout?

There is no one simple solution. It will take a deep analysis of your healthcare organization to diagnose what causes academic physician burnout at your hospital or healthcare system. You will need to consider factors such as gender, age, marital status, familial status, practice field, and scheduling among others.  While these variables are not the cause of academic physician burnout, they will affect the way the members of your team display and deal with the issue. Those variables are also an important consideration when working on a solution to your AMCs physician burnout rate. Simply stated, when you do diagnose the issue, focus on solutions that are less general and more laser-focused.

Closely Monitor Working Hours

Analyze the working hours of your team. Are people in your team working hours they should not, or missing work on a consistent basis? Address these issues. Ensure that your team feels as if they have control over the number of hours they work. Look deeper into how the workday is structured. Is your team able to comfortably finish their tasks? Are they being interrupted or are they being bogged down by administrative tasks and technologies such as EHRs?  Think about working with interim healthcare leaders who can assist in these administrative tasks to reduce the workload of your team without causing a financial burden.

However, there are a few physician burnout treatment options that can be put in place to give your healthcare organization a head start.

Healthcare Succession Planning

By having a clearly delineated succession plan, you can make it easier for those in your organization to prepare for their career path. Identify those who are on a leadership path and work with them to create a program that allows them to follow the path for which they are most apt.

Non-Traditional Benefits

Collaborate with other leaders to analyze, understand, and address how work interferes in your team’s life balance. Go beyond the expected benefits for your team. Think about the stressors that exacerbate burnout and work with your human resources leaders to implement programs that will fight these issues. Think of benefits such as in-house child care centers, elder care visits, and even pet sitting services. Unorthodox programs such as these can make you a more desired employer, reduce the causes of academic physician burnout, and increase physician allegiance to your organization.

Paid Time Off For Research and Advancement

In order to make it easier for those in healthcare to achieve their academic goals, position PTO that is directly related to academic tasks which will allow your team and future academic healthcare leaders to reach their academic goals without being overburdened by administrative ones.

Work With Healthcare Executive Search Firm Summit Talent Group

If your Academic Medical Center is currently working on a plan to reduce physician burnout, contact us. Summit Talent Group is a boutique healthcare executive search firm whose team has extensive experience in the field. Because of our experience, we think like our clients and understand the hurdles they face on a daily basis.

As one of the leading healthcare executive search firms, we have adopted a concierge service model. That model begins by only taking on a small number of search engagements at a time. This allows our principals to directly lead searches, unlike other firms who delegate important search tasks to less experienced, non-industry team members.

Our team of expert healthcare recruiters also believes in full transparency. We begin by conducting an in-depth discovery of your organization. By having a complete understanding of how your healthcare organization works, its team, mission, and challenges, we are better equipped to help you with your talent needs. We also create a clear timeline for you, so you know when you can expect us to hit certain milestones in the search engagement.

We look forward to hearing from you, learning about you and your organization, and to becoming your healthcare search partners.