This post is the last of a four-part series on how to acquire and retain emergency medicine doctors. It discusses the need for leadership to address the problem of EM physician burnout by offering true work-life balance.
Burnout is a problem for all physician specialties, but it’s particularly significant among emergency medicine physicians. In fact, a 2015 Medscape Physician Lifestyle Survey of 7,000 physicians revealed that 52% of EM physicians experience burnout. Per the survey, that’s three times more than the average doctor. 10% of EM physicians said they are so burnt out they are considering leaving medicine. Since hospital administrators ultimately bear the burden of ED stability, installing safeguards against burnout is vital.
The top three burnout causes, according to the Medscape survey: too many bureaucratic tasks, spending too many hours on the job, and insufficient income. These factors affect physician well-being and lead to poor performance, lower patient satisfaction scores, increased errors, alcohol and drug abuse, and even thoughts of suicide.
To retain the best EM docs, hospital administrators must make preventing burnout a priority. To do so, administrators must commit to providing strong ED leadership, appropriate staffing levels, a supportive practice environment, and perhaps most importantly: work-life balance.
As an administrator, you can’t avoid the ED’s inherent unpredictability. You can make a conscious effort to support your EM physicians and create a culture that promotes work-life balance by considering the following:
Physician Work Schedules
While you cannot control who walks through the ED door or when, you can ensure your ED team is ready. A humane physician work schedule that allows for adequate balance with a doctor’s life outside the ED is a great starting point. That means ensuring EM schedules don’t require physicians to flip from night to day and back again quickly, or work lengthy and unsafe shifts.
Although you can’t always avoid overtime, monitoring of patient volume by responsive leadership will ensure your ED is adequately staffed to handle swings in its patient load.
Fair and equitable scheduling, in which all physicians share responsibility for working nights, weekends, and holidays, also goes a long way in promoting a stable, team-centric practice environment.
Simply raising a physician’s rate isn’t a magic bullet. The reality is that raising ED physician pay above the market rate for your region may not be feasible for your hospital, or even fruitful.
Experience shows that as with any relationship, long-term physician-hospital commitments tend to be more strongly fortified by those things money can’t buy — shared values, capable leadership, a supportive practice environment, a collaborative ED team — than what it can.
That’s not to say money doesn’t matter. Signing bonuses and relocation reimbursements are often valuable draws for younger, less experienced physicians with minimal savings post-residency but face daunting school loans.
For more established, experienced physicians, signing bonuses and relocation money may not be as important as what they want or need in a practice environment, culture, medical director leadership, or team.
Other burnout prevention strategies include improving the efficiency of the practice environment, reducing the administrative burden, and providing physicians with greater flexibility and control over their work.
Regardless of the steps you take, making a conscious effort to support your physicians during work and protect their personal time outside of work will show you value your physicians and take the problem of burnout seriously. This positive culture will not only benefit your physicians by reducing burnout, but also your emergency department’s overall care quality.