The Intake

Insights for those starting, managing, and growing independent healthcare practices

Burnout in healthcare workers is a real issue

Are you concerned about burnout at your independent practice? Here are 4 tips to help protect yourself and your staff from burnout.

healthcare worker burned out

At a Glance

  • Physician burnout is rising, and combating it requires proactive measures
  • Strategies include staff recognition, exercise, gratitude practices, and scheduled time off
  • These approaches foster engagement, improve patient retention, and create a healthy workplace culture

Burnout is on the rise and is a serious issue affecting practices across the US. The key to combating burnout is to get ahead of it. Here are some strategies for reducing burnout towards the end of the year.

What is burnout for healthcare workers? 

Physician burnout, a syndrome characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and feelings of decreased personal achievement, is caused by long-term unmanaged stress in the workplace. 

The Mayo Clinic reports that 63% of physicians face burnout each week due to long-term unmanaged stress in the workplace and heightened demands from COVID-19. 

And towards the end of the year, the busy holiday season adds to the burden on physicians’ mental health.

“November and December are typically the busiest months of the year in healthcare, with patients rightfully trying to fit in appointments, imaging exams, and lab work before their deductibles reset in January,” Dr. Michael May, medical director at the Wimpole Clinic, said.

Independent practices are no strangers to the devastating effects of burnout, ranging from decreased provider engagement and morale issues to poor care delivery.

To ensure your independent practice is well-prepared for the holiday season, these 4 strategies will help you stay a step ahead in supporting mental health. 

Strategies to fight healthcare burnout

1. Support practitioner engagement with regular recognition

For practitioners working through the busy holiday season, feeling unappreciated at work can erode morale — especially if your practice keeps non-traditional hours or provides emergency or urgent care.

Recognizing all team members for their efforts is essential to combat burnout during the holiday season. 

“Whether it’s another physician, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, imaging technologist, call center representative, scheduler, courier, administrative assistant, intern, or janitorial staff, they are an instrumental part of the team and deserve to be reminded of their importance,” Dr. Brett Mollard, a radiologist at TRA Medical Imaging in Tacoma, WA, said. “Doing so is essential to supporting the mental health of your team during the holidays.” 

The effects of commending colleagues for a job well-done go beyond fighting stress and burnout. When workers believe they’ll be recognized for their efforts, they are 2.7 times more likely to be engaged in the workplace

Engaged practitioners put patients at ease and measurably contribute to patient retention. A patient experience study by Tebra found 44% of patients said they would switch practices for a provider who was a better listener. 

“Acknowledge staff achievements and help celebrate their wins,” Mollard said. “Thank them and let them know you are proud of them for making excellent patient care a priority.”

2. Encourage exercise

Mental health is linked to physical health. Physical exercise reduces stress while releasing endorphins and can directly influence the impact physicians have on their patients’ health outcomes. While physicians know the benefits of regular physical exercise better than anyone, they often fail to meet recommendations for physical activity. 

“Especially during the busy holiday season, it’s critically important to ensure all of your basic needs are met, including physical activity. In addition to getting enough sleep and eating a well-balanced diet, make sure you exercise a few days a week,” Mollard said.

Practices can support providers and staff in caring for their health by encouraging and incentivizing physical movement. Cover the cost of a gym membership to get healthcare workers started on an exercise program. Doing so will support providers’ mental and physical health and encourage healthy habits in the new year. 

3. Practice gratitude as a team 

Sometimes, the only thing we can change is our mindset. Practicing gratitude is a way to notice and appreciate the positive aspects rather than focusing on the negative. 

In the office, practicing gratitude can become contagious, Mollard said. “Not only does it help prevent burnout, but [gratitude] also helps create a positive feedback loop. The more grateful we are, the more those around us are likely to express gratitude, too.” 

Mollard suggested these 3 ways for physicians to practice gratitude:

  • When you pass by a staff member you see regularly, stop and say “thank you.” They will be pleasantly surprised and it will make their day.
  • Think of your patient as a friend or family member. Create a backstory for them if necessary. This will help you to feel more connected to them and invested in their care. 
  • At the start of each day, reflect on 3 things you’re grateful for as you go into the day ahead. Encourage those around you to do the same. For example, “I am grateful for my morning cup of coffee, my ergonomic desk, and the friendly techs I’ll be working with today.” This will help to set the tone for the day and put you and your team in a more positive mindset.

4. Make sure staff get time off 

Time away from work is essential for mental health. A literature review by the Mayo Clinic found that adjusting scheduling is an effective way to lessen burnout. It is important to ensure providers get time off to rest and spend with family and friends.

Alexander Sanchez, MD, attending psychiatrist at North Jersey Psychiatry Services, recommended that senior providers manage their schedules to compensate for increased requests for time off.

“Staff and colleagues will also inevitably request time off. Allow them use their allotted PTO,” Sanchez said. “It would be wise when building your own schedule to include blocked times to address any urgent issues that require coverage or attention.”

It’s easy to get caught up in the chaos, and with increased patient visits at a busy practice, providers may overlook their own mental health. Practices can help lessen stress by fostering a healthy workplace culture.

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Written by

Catherine Tansey, business writer and reporter

Catherine Tansey is a business and healthcare writer and reporter. She has close to a decade of experience writing and reporting on small business best practices, emerging technology, market trends, and more. Catherine has several family members who own private practices in mental health services, dentistry, and chiropractics, and she’s seen firsthand the pride and privilege practice owners feel to be able to support their communities.

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