5 key elements for cultivating physician resilience

Burnout is a significant issue in healthcare, with nearly 40 percent of physicians feeling burned out — more than 10 percentage points higher than the general population, according to the American Medical Association.

Burnout and stress pose a significant threat to healthcare providers, as they may negatively impact personal well-being as well as clinical performance.

"This data means we have a lot of work to do," Wayne Sotile, PhD, founder of the Center for Physician Resilience, said at Huron Healthcare's 2016 CEO Forum. "As leaders, we have to increase our efforts to create resilience. Fortunately, we have 60 years of data showing that resilience is a trait that can be trained and taught."

Dr. Sotile recommended focusing on the following areas to help physicians develop resilience to burnout and stress.

1. Provide more support and control. Physicians' work environment has transformed from one characterized by high demand and high control to one of high demand, low control and sometimes minimal support, which "can be a toxic combination," said Dr. Sotile. Hospital leaders can remedy this by increasing support for physicians and giving them more control. However, it is important for leaders to first decide how much physician input they will actually take. "Do not invite physicians to the table if you are not ready to hear their input," said Dr. Sotile.

2. Encourage collegiality. The many changes taking place in healthcare that affect care delivery have diminished the feeling of community physicians used to share. Leaders should consider how to boost collaboration and increase support systems as part of their burnout resistance efforts.

3. Concentrate on the things you can control. Common sources of stress for many physicians are out of the hospital's control. Payers, regulatory changes or market forces all apply pressure on physicians on a daily basis. Seeking solutions that are too large often fail to actualize. Dr. Sotile suggests focusing efforts on combating the elements of stress factors one can influence. Others maybe responsible for 90 percent of a problem, but the remaining 10 percent is up for grabs. "What is the 10 percent you are willing to own?" asked Dr. Sotile. "That is a powerful question. What's beneath your feet? What can I do something about?"

4. Grow physician leaders. Physician leadership development is an essential element of getting the results physicians care about the most — patient outcomes and satisfaction, as well as their personal well-being. "We need to sell physician leadership to physicians, to show them why it matters," said Dr. Sotile. "And we need to have concrete examples and evidence. We need to be data-based."

5. Expand physicians' cognitive framework. Physicians' extensive medical training and knowledge often shapes them to think in ways that maximize competitiveness and the need to be in control. While leaders should respect this, they can also help physicians expand their mental maps by promoting self-awareness, emotional intelligence, empathy and social skills.

Dr. Sotile also encouraged CEOs to demonstrate genuine admiration and empathy to physicians. "Think about physician leadership with a sense of wonderment — of seeing familiar in unfamiliar ways. Notice, acknowledge and be generous." Leaders who exhibit this kind of positive attitude can set an example for others throughout the organization.

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