Silly things physician leaders say about Physician Burnout - Part One

Posted by Dike Drummond MD

physician-burnout-physician-wellness-part-time-toxic-systems-of-care-toxic-culture"We can't talk about physician burnout, everyone will go part time"

This is Blog Post #275
Complete Blog Library is Here

This article kicks off a mini-series of blog posts documenting my experience of Silly Things Physician Leaders Say About Physician Burnout. This first example is a great place to begin - a surprisingly frequent CMO/CEO exclamation - often used as justification for continued attempts to ignore the obvious presence of physician burnout.

[ Key Resource: CLICK HERE for our Corporate Support Services ]


physician-burnout-physician-leadership-healthcare-doctor-stress"We can't talk about physician burnout, everyone will go part time"

That is a major subconscious fear of some healthcare administrators and physician leaders. Sometimes they will actually say these same words to your face. If you happen to be the wellness champion in your organization, that statement is usually part of a paragraph that includes "things were OK around here until you showed up".

Some senior healthcare leaders really do believe, if we say the words Physician Burnout, then all the providers will instantly drop to 0.8 FTE or less. Don't say those words, don't bring up that subject, get back to work, there are patients to be seen, what are you going to do about burnout anyway.

physician-burnout-wellness-program-frozen-with-fear-deer-in-the-headlightsThere are two major kernels of truth in this fear

1) These leaders KNOW their systems are too stressful to the doctors and can see the burnout all around. 

2) They don't understand what to do about physician burnout so they freeze and do nothing at all - like a deer in the headlights, hoping and praying that no one ever calls them on their inaction.

(BTW, here are 235 ways to prevent physician burnout just to get you and your organization started)

Your Physicians Notice This Attitude!

They have to work in these systems, in this culture every single day. They know several things by daily first hand experience:

  • Working here is more stressful and inefficient than it needs to be
  • Systems are fundamentally broken and no one takes notice of their concerns or complaints
  • It feels like no one cares about them as a person -- No one has their back
  • And there is no one at the senior leadership level interested in doing anything about this current state of affairs

In response to this toxic work environment and leadership's obvious inaction ...

ANY Living Organism - Including Physicians - will go into Survival Mode

  • If You Must Live in a TOXIC SYSTEM
    - and there appears to be nothing you can do to make this place less stressful or more supportive

  • Your Only Survival Method is to LIMIT YOUR EXPOSURE
    -  Yes, go part time or quit and move on


Look In The Mirror and Notice When YOU are Being Silly
Get Busy Preventing Physician Burnout
Rather than FREEZING Like a Deer in the Headlights 
and Living In Fear of a Part-Timer Tsunami

If you are not actively addressing burnout ...
The doctors have NO CHOICE but to Go Part Time or Quit
That behavior is a Completely Rational Survival Response

And it is NOT ABOUT THEM !!


Leadership is an Honor and a Calling

Leaders are in positions of great power and great responsibility. This is just a question of how much you care about your people and their patients.

If you care enough, you can make a HUGE POSITIVE DIFFERENCE.

  • Acknowledge the truth of the modern physician burnout epidemic
  • Build a better system of care and a more supportive culture
  • Get busy doing things that will make a difference for all your physicians and staff
  • Make your burnout prevention efforts a reason doctors stay in your organization and recommend it to their colleagues
  • Use these efforts to become top ranked in the outcomes that burnout prevents
    • Superior quality
    • Top notch patient and provider satisfaction and engagement
    • Even top flight financial performance 

NONE of that is possible if you quit before you start with a statement like:

"We can't talk about physician burnout, everyone will go part time"



  • When do you - or your leaders - switch off and fail to do something to lower stress and create a more supportive culture?
  • What are your - or your organization's - blind spots? The places you have given up on positive change and chosen to just deal with it? 
  • What is working for you - and in your organization - to prevent burnout and have your colleagues' backs?


Tags: physician wellness, Physician Leadership, stop physician burnout