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Reduce the Stress of Physician Leadership to Reduce Physician Burnout

Series: Physician Burnout, Professional Wellness

Healthcare organizations are increasingly recognizing the importance of engaging physicians and other clinicians in their leadership teams, and this engagement will become even more important as the healthcare environment becomes more challenging. However, leadership responsibilities can contribute to stress and physician burnout when physicians and other clinicians don’t have the leadership skills needed to work collaboratively with their peers or when organizations lack a collaborative culture.

For leadership to be effective, it must be built on a solid foundation consisting of:

  • A clear mission
  • A vision for the future
  • A specific strategy
  • A culture conducive to success
  • A sufficient number of skilled leaders

Consider the following strategies for developing these foundational elements of leadership to help prevent the stress faced by physician leaders.

Develop a Collaborative Culture of Teamwork

Effective physician leadership improves patient care by building teamwork, promoting process improvement, developing a patient safety culture, and supporting innovation. Leading others in culture change and team concepts requires specific skills and a different way of thinking.

  1. Be responsive to clinician concerns: Recognizing the importance of a peer’s concerns and assuring them that their concerns will be addressed—even if doing so takes time—shows that you care. It is critical to developing positive relationships and gaining support from others.
  2. Develop a culture of mentorship and teamwork: Mentor colleagues by establishing small improvement teams to work on issues. Each team has a team leader who drives the work under the direction of the physician leader. This strategy allows colleagues to get involved in problem-solving and learn leadership skills.
  3. Ensure that authority is commensurate with responsibility: If leaders have little authority to address issues that contribute to burnout and alienation, they can’t be helpful to colleagues. A job description that sets out clear responsibilities is the starting point for a meaningful role. Getting the responsibility-authority match right is essential for developing empowered and respected leaders.
  4. Gain trust and respect from colleagues: Helping colleagues understand the influence doctors have when working together and speaking with one voice can help establish your leadership credentials and help you gain their trust.
  5. Use the Lean process improvement approach: Lean process improvement can help remove barriers and frustrations from workflow processes, helping teams identify problems and act sooner. One method for this is a “huddle board.” The huddle board encourages staff to collaborate and communicate to fix small problems before they become big ones and disrupt the day.
  6. Ask peers what matters most: Identify the processes, issues, and circumstances that are impediments to what matters and that get in the way of meeting the professional, social, and psychological needs of the team. Partner to form multidisciplinary teams to share responsibility for removing those impediments.
  7. Celebrate successes: Behavior that’s rewarded is repeated. People feel a sense of commitment once they’ve accomplished a lofty goal. When the team achieves success, confidence increases, as does the desire to move on to the next task.

The following resources will help you gain a greater understanding of these skills for leading culture change and fostering a team environment.

Lean Process Improvement: NORCAL Group On-Demand Video Tutorials: These two on-demand videos from NORCAL Group Risk Management offer tutorials for physicians and staff on key aspects of Lean process improvement.

“Proactive Problem Solving: The A3 Method”

“Value Stream Map: How to Add Value to Your Process”

TeamSTEPPS: Developed by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), an organization of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, TeamSTEPPS offers resources to help healthcare teams and practitioners optimize patient outcomes through development of improved communication and teamwork skills.

Key Elements of Highly Effective Teams: This article describes what makes a highly effective team and how these elements are relevant to clinicians in all practices.

Leading a Culture of Safety: A Blueprint for Success: This publication offers strategies and tactics to help chief executive officers and other healthcare leaders identify the state of patient safety in their organizations, improve dialogue between governing boards and team leadership, and set priorities—all with the goal of building a culture of safety within healthcare organizations.

AMA’s STEPS Forward “Leading Change” Program: The STEPS Forward “Leading Change” program offers resources to help healthcare organizations implement successful change efforts, including the following CME programs to help practices build a culture of teamwork.

Preparing Your Practice for Change” provides a framework for enhancing organizational development to improve effectiveness and efficiency in order to “create the optimal practice environment” and achieve an organization’s goals.

Select Sustainable Change Initiatives” offers advice for practices to help identify the changes that will achieve the desired result of easing the workload on caregivers.

Starting Lean Health Care” offers strategies for getting started with a Lean process improvement initiative in a healthcare practice to help eliminate waste in an organization’s workflows.

Quality Improvement Using Plan-Do-Study-Act” describes the “Plan-Do-Study-Act” steps to quality improvement and how to implement them in a healthcare practice.

Appreciative Inquiry: Fostering Positive Culture” explains how building on what’s already working in a practice can help build positive attitudes and help build a more positive organizational culture.

Develop Leadership Skills to Reduce the Stress of Physician Leadership

Physician leadership and management experience are key factors in delivering high-quality, cost-effective care. In today’s healthcare environment, patient safety, quality care, and cost containment are dependent on physicians’ leadership skills to determine the care and delivery of services. Unfortunately, few physicians receive leadership training. The stress of managing others without sufficient leadership skills can be overwhelming and can contribute to physician burnout. Developing leadership skills is essential to helping physician leaders address the various issues that can lead to this stress.

Utilize Action-Based Leadership Development to Improve Leadership Skills

Action learning is a leadership development process in which small groups work on real-world organizational problems. As part of this process, individuals and teams reflect on their own work in a supportive environment providing a balance of action and learning.

Action Learning–Based Leadership Development at an Academic Medical Center: This article describes the Mayo Clinic’s “Fresh Eyes” program utilizing Action Learning, a leadership-development process where members work together in small groups on realistic business problems.

Create a Successful Leadership Development Program at Your Health System: This article describes Eastern Maine Healthcare System’s Professional and Organizational Program. According to the article, the goal of the program is to provide leaders with the tools and knowledge necessary to “bring the health system into the future.”

Use Stories to Compel Others to Action

Good storytelling about your experiences with patients, whether successes or where the ending is not what you had intended, have a profound effect on creating engagement and action. Emotion is an integral part of the decision-making process. Use that emotion to your advantage to gain support from your peers.

How to Tell Stories That Influence People and Inspire Action: This article provides a preview of the online course “Storytelling for Influence” and offers helpful tips on using storytelling to influence others.

Improve Your Own Leadership Skills

Consider physician leadership training to expand your skills as a leader.

Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI): Leadership for Organizing for Change: IHI’s Open School developed the 9-week online course, “Lead Change in Your Organization or Community,” to help healthcare professionals develop leadership and organizational skills that better enable them to lead change in their communities.

The Critical Role of Clinical Leaders: Transforming Care Today and Tomorrow: This free ebook offers insights to help healthcare leaders respond to changes in the healthcare industry—including issues around burnout, cost vs. care, the need for analytics in care design, and patient engagement.