Battling hospitalist burnout


Beyond salary adjustments

Hospitalists attending the HM19 workshop said they thought that participating in administration committees at their own institutions helps keep hospitalists involved in hospital matters, limiting the effects of burnout and improving workplace satisfaction.

Kevin McAninch, DO, a hospitalist with Central Ohio Primary Care in Westerville, said a shift in work responsibilities has made an improvement at his hospital. There is now an “inpatient support center” – which has a physician and a nurse in an office taking calls from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m., so that rounders can stop taking floor calls during that time.

The system “takes the pressure off our admitters at night and our nurses because they’re not getting floor calls anymore, so they’re just taking care of the admissions from the ER,” he said.

A recurring theme of the discussion was that salary alone seems universally incapable of eradicating feelings of burnout. One hospitalist said that in surveys, higher-paid physicians insist that monetary compensation is their main driver, but still often complain of burnout because they must work extra shifts to earn that higher level of pay.

Instead, burnout and satisfaction indicators tend to have more do to with time, control, and support, Dr. Michtalik noted.

Mangla Gulati, MD, SFHM, chief quality officer at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, said that there’s no big secret about what hospitalists want from their places of employment. They want things like getting patients to service faster so they can make diagnoses, making sure patients get the care they need, fixing the problems associated with electronic medical records, and having a work-life “integration.”

“The questions is – how do we get there?” Dr. Gulati wondered. She suggested that hospitalists have to be more assertive and explanatory in their interactions with members of the hospital C-suite.

“I think it’s really important for you to understand or ask your C-suite, ‘Where are you in this whole journey? What is your perception of wellness? Tell me some of the measures of staff wellness,’ ” she said.

If the C-suite says “we have no money” to make improvements, hospitalists must be willing to say, ‘Well, you’re going to have to invest a little bit.’ ” Dr. Gulati said. “What is the ROI (return on investment) on the turnover of a physician? Because when you turn a physician over, you have to recruit and hire new staff.”

Dr. Gulati said that hospitalists should provide C-suite leaders with a detailed walk-through of their actual workflows – what their workdays look like – because “it’s not something they’re familiar with.”

Aside from improving relations with hospital administration, Dr. Gulati suggested creating CME programs for wellness, offering time and funding for physician support meetings, supporting flexibility in work hours, and creating programs specifically to help clinicians with burnout symptoms.

She also touted the benefits of “Schwartz Rounds,” in which several medical disciplines gather to talk about a case that was particularly challenging, clinically complex, and emotionally draining for everyone involved.

At Cumberland Medical Center, Dr. Martin said he has two meetings a month with executives in the hospital’s C-suite. One is with his hospitalist group, TeamHealth, and one is more direct, between himself and hospital administrators. It’s just 2 hours a month, but these conversations have undoubtedly helped, he said, although he cautioned that “the meetings themselves don’t have as much meaning if you aren’t communicating effectively,” meaning hospitalists must understand how the C-suite thinks and learn to speak in terms they understand.

“When I go to the administration now and I say ‘Hey, this is a problem that we’re having. I need your help in solving it,’ the executives are much more likely to respond to me than if they’d never seen me, or only see me rarely,” Dr. Martin said.

As a result, a collaborative approach to such conversations tends to be more effective.

“If you go to the C-suite and say, ‘Here’s our issue, how can you help us?’ – as opposed to telling the administration, ‘This is what I need’ – they are more likely to work with you to generate a solution.”


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