3 Cultural Aspects Most Important to Physician Satisfaction

There is no doubt culture is important to physicians and hospital administrators alike. Determining cultural fit is an important part of the physician recruitment process for many organizations. Cultural fit is also important because if physicians do not feel as though they fit in culturally in an organization, they are more likely to leave.

While having a positive, cohesive overall culture is important to physician satisfaction and attrition rates, certain aspects of organizational culture are more important to physicians than others, according to Cejka Search and Physician Wellness Services' most recent Organizational Culture Survey.

Here, three experts from Physician Wellness Services discuss the three cultural aspects physicians ranked as most important to their overall satisfaction in the survey.

1. Communication. Physician respondents to the survey gave respectful communication an average score of 8.6 out of 10 in importance to their overall satisfaction. Dan Whitlock, MD, MBA, a consulting physician with PWS and former vice president of medical affairs at CentraCare Health System in St. Cloud, Minn., says that should be no surprise. "Respectful communication is really a foundation for how an organization works," he says.

There are several things hospital and health system administrators can do to promote and improve transparent, respectful communication in their organizations. One way is to ask and then truly listen to physicians' suggestions about situations in the organization. "[Executives] have to want the input," says Robert Stark, MD, a consulting physician for PWS and medical director of the cardiac prevention program at Greenwich (Conn.) Hospital.

"Really listening to what a physician is saying and what their experience is, is going to be appreciated and should lead to a more unified and meaningful vision for the culture," Liz Ferron, senior consultant and manager of clinical services with PWS, adds. To better listen to and digest physician input, Ms. Ferron suggests having one-on-one chats, either scheduled or informal, with physicians instead of large town hall meetings. Meeting physicians face-to-face makes them feel more valued and heard as opposed to large group meetings.

2. Supportive management approach to mistakes. In the survey, physicians ranked "supportive management regarding errors and mistakes" as an 8.5 out of 10 in terms of importance. Physicians have had to change practice habits and take on new administrative duties in many hospitals and health systems due to changes under reform, making this cultural aspect perhaps more important than ever.

Indeed, having a "blame" culture is not only unattractive to physicians — it can create negativity throughout an entire organization. "When you start blaming people for events that happen, you're really creating shock waves that not only go through physicians but nurses and other professionals, right down to the people that clean the rooms," explains Dr. Whitlock.

To better support physicians, especially with their new administrative tasks, Dr. Whitlock recommends making extra training available. "There really is an academic science to leadership that few physicians have been schooled in," he says. Offering training programs will better equip physicians while making them feel more supported.

3. Focus on patient-centered care. A patient-centered care focus also scored an average of 8.5 out of 10 for physician importance. Even though the majority of hospitals and health systems believe they are a patient-centered organization, physician satisfaction with their organization's focus on this aspect was just 7 out of 10, according to the survey.

The disconnect between believed focus and physician satisfaction with the patient-centered culture happens because physicians and executives are not speaking the same language when it comes to defining what "patient-centered" really means. "I think physicians are genuinely interested in caring for the patient with accurate diagnoses, and administration is interested in getting patient satisfaction numbers [as high] as possible," Dr. Stark says. "They are [concerned with] different aspects of patient focus."

In order to get on the same page about what having a patient-centered focus really means, Dr. Stark and Dr. Whitlock recommend getting both parties together for a conversation. "I think there is a gap in communication between physicians and administration, and they really need to honestly get together and be honest with each other and try to speak the same language," Dr. Stark explains.

If organizations focus on improving these three cultural aspects, their physicians are likely to be more satisfied in their jobs and the overall culture of a hospital or health system — and less likely to leave.

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