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Oct. 24, 2019

MSU takes action against high physician burnout rate

Burnout among physicians and other clinicians has become an epidemic that requires system-wide changes to address it, according to a new report by the National Academy of Medicine.

Long hours, heavy workload, time pressures, technology challenges and dissatisfaction with their work may lead to clinician burnout, said Wanda Lipscomb, the College of Human Medicine’s associate dean for student affairs, who served on the committee that produced the report, Taking Action Against Clinician Burnout: A Systems Approach to Professional Well-Being.

“Burnout is a problem that can be described as emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and a low sense of professional efficacy associated with workplace stress,” Lipscomb said. “A chronic imbalance of high job demands and inadequate job resources can lead to burnout and physician turnover. Eventually that is going to impact patient care.”

The report found that one-third to one-half of U.S. clinicians have symptoms of burnout, including emotional exhaustion, detachment and a low sense of personal accomplishment. Among medical students and resident physicians, the rate is even higher: 45% to 60%.

“Many of the stressors of burnout start early in the educational system,” Lipscomb said. “One of the real issues for medical schools is to recognize that we are training future physicians.”

That training, she said, should include an emphasis on the health and well-being of the students, which could carry over into their clinical practices.

The College of Human Medicine already is following several of the recommendations included in the report. The college’s new Shared Discovery Curriculum includes a pass/no pass system that replaces grades with a set of competencies each student is expected to achieve. The college also has an assistant dean for student wellness and engagement, a student health advisory committee, and a director of wellness and resiliency. 

“I think in some ways we are ahead of the curve,” Lipscomb said. “Because we recognize the importance of the wellness of our students and clinicians. The college is actively focused on creating a culture of caring and improving the work and learning environment.”

The report recommends six goals to reduce burnout:

  • Create positive work environments that promote “high-quality care, job satisfaction and social support.”
  • Address burnout in training and at the early career stage, including implementing pass/fail grading.
  • Reduce the number of tasks that do not improve patient care.
  • Improve the usability and relevance of health information technology.
  • Reduce the stigma and improve burnout recovery services so that more clinicians are willing to seek help.
  • Create a national research agenda to gather additional data on how to reduce clinician burnout.

The report is not the end but the beginning of a long process to reduce burnout among clinicians and students, Lipscomb said.

Additional information about the study is available on the National Academy of Medicine’s Web site.

By: Geri Kelley