'An epidemic of resignation': Mount Sinai leader pushes better physician well-being

From intention to leave to high turnover rates, the overall U.S. physician shortage could hit 124,000 by 2034.

"We're facing what's become an epidemic of resignation and intention to leave with already a very tight physician pipeline in many areas. That's going to impact healthcare for many Americans," Michael Leitman, MD, professor of surgery and medical education at Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine, told Becker's

New York City-based Mount Sinai comprises the Icahn School of Medicine and eight hospital campuses. It features over 7,400 physicians and more than 2,600 residents and clinical fellows.

Dr. Leitman, who also serves as dean of graduate medical education at Mount Sinai, said the healthcare industry has continued to see an increase in physician dissatisfaction and intention to leave since the pandemic, brought on by issues like well-being. 

"You can't just throw yoga, therapy dogs and ice cream at this. You really have to look at what the physician goes through on a daily basis," he said.

After the death of more than one physician by suicide in a short time, Dr. Leitman said he began to focus heavily on physician well-being. Mount Sinai also developed an office for well-being and resilience to support the health system's faculty, residents and fellows. 

"One of the things that we started doing is each department has a well-being champion. It's a faculty for other faculty that has some additional training that can help them navigate behavioral health resources, and also look at the work-life balance in the department to help understand where opportunities exist to reduce stress," he said. 

Dr. Leitman said electronic medical record work can also take a toll on physician well-being, involving a lot of after-hours work with patient portal queries and requests. 

"That impacts them tremendously because one of the ways that physicians are ranked by patients, which is very important to both the physician as well as to the healthcare system, is by their accessibility. Keeping patients satisfied is important, but I think physicians have to have a life outside of medicine that ends at a certain time of day where they can relax and get off the grid and go about their personal lives."

Dr. Leitman said physician departures can also cost employers anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million in lost revenue, highlighting the importance of retaining physicians and keeping their well-being top of mind.

"A beloved physician that drives patients into the organization is just a commodity that's difficult to replace. When physicians are suffering from burnout even if they haven't left, their productivity is negatively impacted. So there's really two justifications for investing in physician satisfaction and physician well-being."

Dr. Leitman championed healthcare organizations to let their physicians know someone is in their corner. 

"If they know that there's some ray of sunshine in the future, if they know that the organizations are concerned about what impacts them in their organizations, I think that physicians will give those organizations an opportunity to fix problems." 

Like what you see? Mount Sinai will have a speaker at the Becker's Academic Medical Center Leadership forum April 8-9 in Chicago. Hospital and health system leaders, click here to apply for a complimentary badge. Interested in exhibitor or sponsorship opportunities to connect with 3,000+ hospital and health system leaders? Download the prospectus here. Thank you to our sponsor ECG Management.

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