Doctor Burnout: Part II

In response to the growing problem surrounding physician burnout–a national epidemic that impacts not only the health of medical practitioners, but also patient care–Stanford Medicine has hired a chief wellness officer.

In an unprecedented first move for a U.S. academic medical center, Tait Shanafelt, MD will lead Stanford Medicine’s pioneering program in the field. At a time when physician burnout “nationally has reached an all-time high,” Dr. Shanafelt will direct the WellMD Center at Stanford Medicine, while serving as associate dean.

Shanafelt has paved the field of wellness in medicine, overseeing multiple national surveys since 2008 that have included over 30,000 U.S. physicians, and 9,000 U.S. workers in other fields. The surveys have indicated increasing rates of burnout among doctors; in 2014, more than 50% of those surveyed were suffering from “emotional exhaustion, loss of meaning in work, or a sense of ineffectiveness and a lack of engagement with patients.” Shanafelt’s studies have confirmed that while physicians suffer, patients do also, as burnout leads to increased errors and increased rates of mortality among hospitalized patients.

Shanafelt has stated that the trend is “eroding the soul of medicine.” While many leaders in healthcare recognize that physician burnout is an imminent threat to their organizations, many do not know how to effectively address it. Shanafelt will work to build Stanford’s innovative WellMD Center, established in 2016, which has engaged more than 200 physicians through programs aimed at peer support, stress reduction, and a variety of ways to cultivate compassion and resilience. Furthermore, the center seeks to relieve some of the burden and pressure on physicians, through improving efficiency and simplifying workplace systems.

The conference will host the first American Conference on Physician Health in October, co-sponsored by the American Medical Association and the Mayo Clinic. This event will support opening up a national dialogue on the issue of physician burnout, while creating efforts to address physician distress through programs that promote “physician autonomy, efficiency, collegiality, and a sense of community.”