As burnout continues to impact physicians, well-being must be a health system priority

The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified longstanding issues that have accelerated the physician burnout rate in the United States. In fact, research co-authored by the American Medical Association (AMA) shows that two years into this public health emergency, the pandemic pushed U.S. doctor burnout to an all-time high of 63%. This signaled the ever-growing need for chief wellness officers like Jennifer Bickel, MD, at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, to have an organizational strategy.

While having several years of experience in organizational wellness, but new to her role at Moffitt, Dr. Bickel knew she needed a baseline measure of burnout to determine what their system drivers were. Luckily, due to her prior experience and working relationship with the AMA, she knew well-being leaders don’t need to recreate the wheel because the AMA has extensive services available that are top notch and free.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have national models from the AMA, as well as the National Academy of Medicine, otherwise it’s just Jennifer Bickel showing up with her opinions,” said Dr. Bickel, who also chairs the American Academy of Neurology Wellness Subcommittee and is part of the National Academy of Medicine Action Collaborative. “It is so important because burnout makes everybody opinionated.”

“What I mean by that in a world that has so many opinions, they are sometimes passionately at opposition with each other,” she said, noting “it does require these national models to move forward,” which the AMA can provide.

To enhance organizational well-being at Moffitt, Dr. Bickel leaned into the AMA for guidance.

It starts with surveying burnout
Being able to do the burnout survey—provided free of charge—in support of the AMA’s mission focus, “that’s always beneficial because then the money that you would spend on surveying can actually be spent on other things,” explained Dr. Bickel, noting another benefit was being “able to customize the survey to meet our organization’s specific needs including a detailed assessment on appreciation preferences.”

“The support we got in doing the survey was outstanding. I’ve been doing surveys for a long time and the support, the responsiveness, the level of expertise, the commitment to us being successful with this was outstanding,” said Dörte Heimbeck, PhD, associate chief wellness officer at Moffitt. “I’ve never experienced anything like that. It’s a remarkable team to work with.”

On top of the support throughout the survey, “we were able to then benchmark the data and play with it however we wanted in that data set. We still continue to pull into that data set,” said Dr. Bickel. “We’re using it again to support our faculty leader retreat that’s coming up by giving national case studies and evidence, then local information.”

A road map to follow
But it is also important to note that “a survey without action is anti-wellness,” said Dr. Bickel. That is why it has been key that the AMA has “the Joy in Medicine criteria to follow as a road map.”

“I even remember at my interview saying that this was going to be the scaffolding that we follow within the first 18 months. It helps provide the rationale for those things to move forward,” she said.

Since following the AMA Joy in Medicine™ Health System Recognition Program, Moffitt received bronze recognition for 2022. Other organizations can do the same by completing an application for the program that opens Jan. 2023 by submitting their intent to apply.

Resources for guidance
“The other thing is the fact that whenever you’re creating ideas such as peer support or stress first aid training, you’re able to say this is upheld by the AMA as one of the things that we can do,” Dr. Bickel said, sharing that the AMA de-implementation checklist (PDF) has also been helpful in guiding Moffitt in making changes to improve organizational well-being and reduce administrative burden.

“We used the de-implementation checklist within the first few months for benchmarking with medical informatic leaders as well as quality and safety,” she said, emphasizing that “having those tools and frameworks has been really essential.”

“It’s so refreshing and it’s nurturing because doing wellness work is not for the faint of heart,” Heimbeck said. “It’s a long-distance sport where one really needs to feed off incremental change and improvement and have that be enough to sustain alone on this journey.”

Reducing physician burnout is a critical component of the AMA Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians. And with far too many American physicians experiencing burnout, the AMA has developed resources that prioritize well-being and highlight workflow changes so physicians can focus on what matters—patient care.

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