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September 29, 2017

How Novant Health is helping their physicians avoid burnout

Daily Briefing

    To combat physician burnout, Novant Health has implemented a three-day physician-resiliency program that aims to help physicians remember why they joined the profession in the first place and improve their interpersonal relationships—with impressive results, Lola Butcher writes for Hospitals & Health Networks.

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


    According to Tom Jenike, SVP and chief human executive officer for Novant, the health system launched the program after he himself experienced burnout and sought help from a life coach. The coach helped Jenike recall why he wanted to be a physician, which in turn helped him determine how to make his day-to-day work more meaningful. "Once I connected some dots and had some 'aha!' moments, I really got committed to trying to create a systemwide, proactive solution for our physicians," Jenike said.

    With support from Novant CEO Carl Armato, Jenike and his life coach in 2013 collaborated on a three-day intensive program for physicians at the health care system. The program had two primary aims, according to Jenike: First, provide physicians time and space to think about want they want to do with their time, and whey they want to do those things, and second, to improve their professional and personal relationships.

    How the program works

    The program is offered about once per month, with a follow-up session about a month later, and each cohort includes between 15 and 20 participants. For the program, participants use three personal days in return for 32 hours of continuing medical education credit.

    Over the course of the program, participants talk about the challenges that they regularly face in the workplace, whether that be dealing with EHRs, constantly changing payment models, or pressure to increase efficiency. They acknowledge that those challenges will remain, and then assess and contextualize their own reactions to those pressures. "Understanding ... patterns of thinking, patterns of behaving, and patterns of feeling is, we think, foundational to helping to build resilience and wellness, and decreasing burnout," Jenike said.

    Positive results

    The program has been a success, Butcher reports. Since its implementation in 2013, more than 700 physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants have participated in the three-day program, and nearly 800 nurses, respiratory therapists, and other "bedside caregivers" have completed a one-day version of the program.

    According to Butcher, physicians who completed the program in 2015 scored significantly higher on engagement and alignment measures (89th and 92nd percentile, respectively) than those who did not. But Jenike said while those outcomes are positive, he prefers those measures that show providers' increased satisfaction with their work-life balance. "The whole conversation is about them and their lives, and we make it very clear that we care more about them, as human beings, as people, than we care about the work they do with the company," Jenike said. "This is absolutely the opposite of 'drink the company Kool-Aid' conversation."

    For instance, Butcher reports that multiple physician participants in the program have sought out leadership roles or established initiatives tailored to their personal interests. One of those initiatives, an EHR optimization team, is comprised of former program participants who proactively meet with other providers at the health care system to improve EHR use. "This team is in place because they went to this program," Jenike said (Butcher, Hospital & Health Networks, 9/26).

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