At Mayo Clinic, there is such a thing as a free lunch

Poor clinician well-being can affect patient care

Mayo Clinic has launched a comprehensive program to combat physician burnout—and in this case, there really is such a thing as a free lunch, Molly Gamble reports for Becker's Hospital Review.

Burned-out doctors are "impaired," says Mayo Clinic President and CEO John Noseworthy. "They're at risk for increased medical errors, turnover, and suicide. They are at risk for decreased professionalism, patient satisfaction, and productivity."

And the problem is getting worse. According to a Mayo Clinic survey, 54 percent of doctors show at least one symptom of burnout, a marked increase from recent years. And Mayo Clinic is "not immune," Noseworthy says. A 2015 survey found that 40 percent of the system's doctors reported at least one symptom of burnout.

Can a time bank beat physician burnout? Stanford thinks so.

Fighting burnout

In 2007, Mayo Clinic launched an initiative to better understand and address physician burnout by leveraging its expertise in internal medicine, psychiatry, psychology, and other specialties.

Clinic researchers have found several factors that correlate with physician burnout, including poor leadership. For instance, Mayo found that half of the variation in staff members' overall satisfaction results from leadership traits of department chairs.

The lesson, Noseworthy says, is that leadership matters. "Leaders who show humble interest in the well-being of staff make a huge difference," he explains. Mayo Clinic is working with senior leaders to help them understand how their approach affects physician job satisfaction.

But Noseworthy also says that physicians need to take responsibility for managing their own well-being—and Mayo Clinic is giving them tools to help them do that. The clinic offers several wellness resources, such as:

  • Resiliency training;
  • Coaching;
  • Mindfulness stress-reduction programs;
  • Massage therapy; and
  • Fitness classes.

Going to lunch

Mayo is also trying more novel approaches, such as encouraging physicians to share meals together. According to two randomized controlled trials, eating a meal together:

  • Enhances physicians' sense of meaning;
  • Reduces burnout; and
  • Helps create a sense of community.

The Clinic now has a system-wide program that literally takes doctors out to lunch. All 4,100 physicians at the system are eligible. Under the program, groups of five or six doctors go out to lunch every two weeks. They spend 15 minutes discussing their experiences as physicians and the remainder of the meal talking about anything they want. Mayo Clinic picks up the check.

In the year since the program was launched, 950 doctors have participated.

"Our doctors have said, 'If you're dumb enough to pay me to have lunch with my friends, I'll certainly go,'" Noseworthy quips. "But it actually works to build collegiality" and has helped "turn the tide" in the fight against burnout, he says (Gamble, Becker's Hospital Review, 5/3).

Physician burnout is becoming an epidemic. How do we stop it?

Over 50 percent of physicians now report having at least one symptom of burnout. There is a never-ending supply of data and stories about this phenomenon online—but a recent Mayo Clinic study that links burnout to the likelihood of FTE reduction caught our eye.

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