Practice Notes

Physicians, feeling frustrated? We don't blame you.

by Chloe Lewis

Most medical groups we speak with report managing frustrated physicians as an added layer of every strategic goal, project, or initiative they are working on. And it’s no wonder—physicians are more burned out than ever.

Who could blame them? They are practicing medicine in an era of rapid and continuous change, with adjustments to nearly every facet of their professional lives: from payment models, to technology, to standards for clinical practice.

Three forms of frustration

Physician frustration, which can feel amorphous, massive, and impossible to tackle, is in fact dynamic, nuanced, and scope-able. Here at the Medical Group Strategy Council we discuss and understand physician frustration using the following terms: physician engagement, physician satisfaction, and physician burnout.

Frustrated physicians in each category resemble the following.

1. Dissatisfied physician. Dr. Smith frequently complains, is resistant to change clinical practice processes, and unwilling to relinquish control over his schedule and support staff because he believes the changes reduce his autonomy. Employee satisfaction is the extent to which employees are happy or content with their jobs and work environment. One medical group found that it was able to improve physician satisfaction simply by improving its parking policies.

2. Poorly engaged physician. Dr. Jones is willing to complete tasks without complaint, but despite the respect of her peers, is reluctant to take a leadership position within the organization. When asked, she mentions that she no longer feels empowered by the organization.

Employee engagement is the emotional connection to the organization. Rather than compensation, benefits, or general work environment, an engaged employee is committed to achieving organizational goals and willingly holds herself accountable to achieve those aims—essential for organizational transformation.

3. Burned-out physician. Dr. Brown is exhausted and appears absent in department meetings. His patient satisfaction scores have dropped precipitously, and his colleagues mention that he seems less empathetic in patient interactions. Low satisfaction and engagement are symptoms of burnout. Innovative programs, like the one recently profiled at Stanford, are looking at ways to adjust other parts of physicians’ lives to stave off burnout. In Stanford’s case, doctors can "bank" time spent mentoring, serving on committees, covering colleagues’ shifts on short notice, and earn credits to use for work or home-related services.

Where to start improving your physician culture

To begin to tackle physician frustration, in its many forms, the medical group must first look at its physician culture and the strength of its leadership bench. Many medical groups underestimate their ability to change and drive their organizations physician culture, but it in fact can be broken down into concrete steps, and our cultural diagnostic can equip you with the tools and insights necessary to do so.


As you work to improve physician engagement at your institution, we are here to serve as your partners, thinking about innovative ways to address physician frustration and improve physicians’ lives every day. We’ve embraced our physician frustration icon as a reminder of our sense of purpose here at the Medical Group Strategy Council, and have put it on our cup o’ joe as a reminder every morning!

If your physicians are experiencing burnout, we’d love to hear from you! As we engage in deeper research on this topic, we are interested to learn more about our members’ unique experiences. Please contact me directly at

Optimize your physician engagement strategy

What's the best strategy for engaging your medical staff? Our latest benchmark report includes data from over 21,000 respondents across health systems and medical groups, which we used to identify seven tactics for improving physician engagement and alignment.