LAGUNA NIGUEL, Calif.—In the United States, nearly two-thirds of physicians suffer from burnout. The reasons range from tough clinical hours to arduous amounts of paperwork that take up more of a doctor’s time than seeing patients.
“A third of doctors [say] they would not pick medicine again if they had a choice,” Dr. Toby Cosgrove, former president and CEO of the Cleveland Clinic said during a panel at Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference.
That issue is becoming increasingly apparent to medical leaders. Dr. Laurie Glimcher, the president and CEO of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, said her hospital recently surveyed its physicians and found that while over 90% said they felt dedicated to the hospital’s mission, about 50% were reporting signs of burnout—which was particularly high among young, female oncologists. “Now that we realize the extent of this problem…we have to figure out ways to make the lifestyle and work style possible for our talented young doctors,” said Glimcher.
Here are some of Cosgrove’s and Glimcher’s suggested solutions.
Improve work-life balance
Glimcher says she’s noticed that doctors can have a “macho attitude” when it comes to how much time they spend working. “We always wear our beepers and are on 24/7,” she said. Glimcher realized the culture was becoming unhealthy when a young oncologist told her that she didn’t think she could keep up the pace. She wanted to go home and spend time with her kids, but instead she felt she was beholden to the beeper. Glimcher says work schedules need to change to allow doctors to truly take a break. “We need to have a system where people can cover for each other,” she says. “It’s not a matter of pride, but keeping [everyone] functioning.”
Teach how to be a team player
One of the reasons Cosgrove cites for doctors’ frustrations is the fact that physicians need to rely on their colleagues more now than in the past, which isn’t necessarily taught in medical schools. Cosgrove says the Cleveland Clinic medical school system brings in other health professionals that doctors will frequently work with—such as physicians assistants and nurses—early in the education process so that young doctors learn how to work on a team rather than as a single player.
During the panel, the issue of the lack of diversity in medicine was raised. Both Glimcher and Cosgrove said that while their respective hospitals have taken strides to improve their gender ratios, there’s much more that needs to be done. “What we haven’t done enough of is to be inclusive to have enough [racial] diversity as well,” says Glimcher. “This is something we need to devote more resources to.”
Think about doctor’s health, too
According to Cosgrove, only about one third of the physicians at the Cleveland Clinic reported getting an annual exam. To make sure doctors were also taking care of their own health, the hospital made it a priority that physicians took a day to have their own check-ups. The hospital also brings in support groups and professionals to help doctors and their teams deal with difficult days on the job.
Cut back on the paperwork
Cosgrove says the amount of time that doctors spend doing paperwork that has nothing to do with treating patients is taking a toll. “I think you have to figure out how to decrease the busy work and non essential doctor work,” he said, adding that the Cleveland Clinic made small but helpful changes that helped cut back on the amount of time doctors spend doing logistical tasks. For example, the hospital hired more pharmacists to handle refills and more physicians assistants to assist doctors during appointments.
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