• By Bob Nellis

Effective Leadership: One Remedy for Physician Burnout

April 8, 2015

Burnout is a common problem among U.S. doctors and studies suggest it adversely impacts quality of care and patient satisfaction. Many factors impact how physicians perceive their career. A new study suggests there’s an interesting correlation between physician burnout and the effectiveness of their supervisors. That’s what researchers found at Mayo Clinic when they undertook a large internal study on the satisfaction of physicians and the leadership qualities of their supervisors. The findings appear today in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

 “We found that at the work-group level, 11 percent of the variation in burnout and 50 percent of the variation in satisfaction among physicians was attributable to the leadership behaviors of their supervisor,” says Tait Shanafelt, M.D., Mayo researcher and first author of the study. “The behaviors of physician supervisors have a direct impact on the personal well-being of the physicians they lead.”

Journalists: Sound bites with Dr. Shanafelt are available in the downloads.

Media Contact: Bob Nellis at Mayo Clinic Public Affairs: 507-284-5005 or [email protected]

In 2013 the research team surveyed 3,896 physicians and scientists across Mayo Clinic’s three campuses in Arizona, Florida and Minnesota. Just over 70 percent responded to the survey. The survey asked questions about physician wellbeing and burnout in the workplace. Among the responding physicians, 40 percent had at least one symptom of burnout.

On the positive side, 79 percent of the physicians said they were satisfied or very satisfied with their job, 12 percent were neutral and nine percent were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied.

Physicians were also asked to evaluate their supervisors (all physician-scientists themselves) in 12 specific dimensions of leadership to determine an overall leadership score. After adjusting for age, gender, length of employment, and specialty area, for every one-point improvement in the 60-point leadership score there was a 3.3 percent decrease in likelihood of burnout and a 9 percent increase in satisfaction. Highly rated leaders appeared to more effectively engage physicians in identifying problems and empowered them to develop solutions. “Effective leaders inform, engage, develop, empower and recognize the achievements of the physicians they lead” Dr. Shanafelt says.

Roughly three of every four U.S. physicians are now employed by large health care organizations. The researchers say this study points to a clear impact of leadership qualities in a modern healthcare organization and the importance of the work place environment on physician burnout. They note that “physicians often receive little training in how to be an effective leader” and that “new strategies are needed to identify potential physician leaders and better prepare them to lead.”

Coauthors of the study include Grace Gorringe, Ronald Menaker, Ed.D., Kristein Storz, David Reeves, Ph.D., Steven Buskirk, M.D., Jeff Sloan, Ph.D. and Stephen Swensen, M.D., all of Mayo Clinic. The study was funded by the Mayo Clinic Office of Organization and Leadership Development; and the Mayo Clinic Department of Medicine Program on Physician Well-being.

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