3 lessons on preventing burnout from ED physicians at Mass General

Two emergency medicine physicians at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston shared strategies that have helped them curb burnout among their teams in a Harvard Business Review article published earlier this month.

The article's authors were:

  • Joshua Baugh, MD, assistant director of clinical operations and fellow in emergency medicine administration and disaster medicine at MGH
  • Ali Raja, MD, executive vice chair of MGH's emergency medicine department

To better understand the effect of their strategies, which they implemented during the pandemic, MGH anonymously surveyed 60 faculty physicians in their emergency department (ED). These early results found that although burnout increased amid the pandemic, this jump was smaller at MGH compared to other emergency departments in the U.S.

Three strategies MGH implemented to address burnout:

  1. Make work fulfilling. MGH maintained salaries and incentives but focused on emotional rewards to keep physicians motivated. The system provided frequent updates of patients' positive outcomes once they left the ED and provided staff with positive patient feedback.

  2. Be transparent and fair: When MGH distributed PPE and vaccine supplies, leaders wanted to avoid the perception of special treatment for any group so they broadly publicized the criteria used to distribute supplies. In survey results, respondents said this was a key factor in maintaining trust in the institution.

  3. Rightsize workloads: Even as ED visits decreased, MGH staffed the same number of attending physicians. Leaders recognized that patient interactions were more time-consuming due to increased PPE and safety requirements. Doing so allowed staff to recharge and be more effective long-term.

These strategies bolstered emotional well-being with "two-thirds of [survey respondents reporting] feeling a greater sense of unity and collective purpose than they had before the pandemic," Drs. Baugh and Raja said.

To view the full list of strategies MGH implemented, click here.

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