The results from the 2016 Stanford Physician Wellness survey are in, and the number of physicians reporting signs of burnout has continued to rise. Of the 1,281 (54 percent) Stanford physicians who completed the survey last fall, 34 percent reported signs of burnout. In the subset of physicians who completed both the 2013 and 2016 surveys, overall burnout increased from 26 to 34 percent and high professional fulfillment dropped from 24 to 14 percent. The burnout rate for female physicians was significantly higher than for males (39 percent versus 28 percent). These results mirror a national trend of increasing physician burnout.
“Our recent survey data supports the need to address culture of wellness, efficiency of practice and personal resilience to reverse the downward trend in physician wellness,” said Bryan Bohman, MD, interim director of the WellMD Center. “It is the WellMD Center’s goal to address both organizational wellness and individual resiliency strategies to promote professional fulfillment for all members of our care teams.”
The 2016 survey was designed to measure not just burnout, but also professional fulfillment, and to help identify gaps in current efforts to improve professional wellness, said Mickey Trockel, MD, PhD, director of scholarship and health promotion. He has led the development of the past two physician wellness surveys. The 2016 questionnaire was expanded greatly to capture information on physicians’ sense of appreciation, personal/organization values alignment, peer supportiveness, leadership support, control of schedule, experience with the electronic health record, self-compassion, sleep-related impairment and meaningfulness of clinical work.
“The survey sought to uncover what determinants are at work when physicians are happy, feeling successful and having a sense of meaning with their work,” said Mary Lou Murphy, administrative director. “The results will be used to guide future programming.”
Later this month, the WellMD Center team will begin sharing comprehensive results with 17 different department chairs to help direct wellness strategies in each area. The team will also hold focus groups to involve physicians in designing specific interventions.
Traditionally, wellness programs have focused on personal resilience, how we eat, sleep and take care of ourselves, said Patty de Vries, director, strategic projects. “But what are we doing as an organization to either impede or support those healthy habits? How do we create an environment where people feel supported and take care of themselves?”
Results from the 2016 survey suggest that organizational support is key to overall wellness and professional fulfillment. Sixty percent of respondents identified leadership support as a key indicator of physician wellness and professional satisfaction. Physicians experience with the electronic medical record (EMR) was another predictor of professional fulfillment and burnout. The WellMD team has begun meeting with Information Technology Services to look at how it can improve the physician interface with the EMR, to reduce the frustration of multiple logins and simplify the experience. It is also providing leadership training to improve how physicians impact and support their teams.
“Stanford Medicine embraces its own responsibility to help combat burnout and improve professional fulfillment for our physicians,” said Bohman, chief medical officer for University HealthCare Alliance. “When over half of all physicians show evidence of burnout nationwide, it becomes essential that all health care organizations accept some responsibility for creating a clinical environment that doesn’t require super-human resiliency for people to survive in it.”
Physician health is also a key quality indicator, said Bohman, who pointed out that burnout or absence of wellness has been linked to less than optimal clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction. “Physicians should see their own wellness as a professional duty,” he said. “They should view their wellness in the same way they view other professional obligations such as CME and keeping up on literature.”