News & Insights

Healthcare Executives and Physicians Should Work Together to Reduce Burnout

August 17, 2017

By Elmore F. Rigamer, M.D., MPA

Healthcare Executives and Physicians Should Work Together to Reduce Burnout

Tait Shanafelt, M.D. recently spoke on physician burnout at a NEJM Catalyst seminar.1 NEJM Catalyst is a forum created by the New England Journal of Medicine Group to enhance communication between healthcare executives and physicians. A Mayo Clinic internist and hematologist, Dr. Shanafelt has studied and published widely on the far-reaching and often unacknowledged effects burnout has on physicians' health and their patients' care and outcomes. In this recent lecture, he warns about the imprudence of looking at burnout solely as a physician problem and failing to see how health systems are a contributor. Physicians show the symptoms of burnout, Dr. Shanafelt notes, but health systems foster the problem because of the way they operate.  

So far, solutions have mainly focused on changes physicians need to make. Dr. Shanafelt points out that doctors have been told to aim for a balanced lifestyle, eat healthily, stay active and reap the benefits of yoga and mindfulness. No real progress will be made, however, until we stop chastising individual physicians and begin looking at the demands the healthcare system places on them.

In September 2016, the AMA sponsored a meeting of CEOs from 10 major hospital systems to discuss physician burnout. This was a progressive move; however, a NEJM Catalyst survey found that while about 65 percent of healthcare executives and leaders see physician burnout as a “serious problem," only 35 percent perceive this to be a serious problem in their organization.2 The CEOs at the 2016 meeting presented a list of recommendations, including the involvement of physicians in decisions that affect their clinical work, relieving them of work that non-physicians can do, and minimizing the burden of clerical work. They agreed that promoting physician health and well-being should be a system-wide initiative.3

Dr. Shanafelt, however, goes further. He urges administrators to support physicians in advocating against intrusive regulations that do little to improve care. He also encourages payers and the government to redesign payment measures so that they reflect the actual, measurable time it takes to provide quality care.

These are encouraging developments associated with an issue that affects almost half of the physician workforce. As Dr. Shanafelt affirms, “Physicians and leaders working together constructively to identify, develop, and implement solutions for problems in the practice environment demonstrates to physicians that improvement is possible.” 1

To take the first step in making a change in physician well-being at your facility, consider hosting a Litigation Stress Management seminar for your organization. Learn more at

1.    Shanafelt T. Physician burnout: stop blaming the individual. NEJM Catalyst. June 2, 2016.
2.    NEJM Catalyst. Leadership Survey: Why Physician Burnout is Endemic, and How Health Care Must Respond. December 8, 2016.
3.    Noseworthy J, Madara J, Cosgrove D, et al. Physician burnout is a public health crisis: a message to our fellow health care CEOs. Health Affairs. March 28, 2017.


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