Four Ways to Help Physicians Put Their Health First

Strategies for increased work-life balance and attention to health and wellness could reduce feelings of stress

Fewer than 43 percent of physicians are satisfied with work-life integration, one study found. Meanwhile, under 50 percent say they have enough time for their personal life, including time with family.

It’s one reason why nearly the majority of today’s physicians exhibit at least one symptom of burnout. Stressors that contribute to feelings of burnout include administrative burden and manual processes as well as too many hours spent at work, an American Medical Association (AMA) survey found.

How can practice leaders help physicians gain a better work-life balance and relieve the stress that comes with their profession for greater overall wellness? Here are four strategies to consider.

Strategy No. 1:

Pair physicians with care team coordinators. The AMA survey found 31 percent of physicians would like a more manageable work schedule, including a less rigorous on-call schedule. At Heartland Health Centers in Chicago, care team coordinators:

• Review patients’ medical records before their visit

• Complete advanced medical histories after patients arrive

• Brief physicians on patients’ concerns and goals prior to the appointment

• Facilitate ongoing communication with the patient after their visit.

It’s a program that empowers physicians to spend more time with patients and less time in the EHR.

Strategy No. 2:

Encourage physicians to take time off. One in three physicians take two weeks of vacation or less, a recent survey found. While most physicians take at least three to four weeks of vacation, practice leaders should be on the lookout for those who take less and encourage these physicians to take the time to rejuvenate. Time away from work boosts physicians’ physical and mental health and gives them space to gain clarity and think creatively about ways to address common challenges in their profession.

Strategy No. 3:

Host physician exercise activities. Thirty-one percent of physicians exercise once a week or not at all, a 2019 physician survey found. When physicians do make time to exercise, the health benefits extend not only to themselves, but also to their patients. In fact, patients are more willing to exercise when their physicians share their own workout habits. At Hawaii Permanente Medical Group, the physician practice hosts classes on yoga, surfing, and hula—and some classes are physician-led. This practice also sponsors family activities that emphasize physical activity, such as water park nights.

Strategy No. 4:

Seek opportunities for group wellness education. For example, at Mayo Clinic, groups of six to 10 physicians meet twice a month for six months to brainstorm creative ways to tackle common stressors, promote higher levels of collegiality, and increase professional satisfaction. The meetings, which are held in coffee shops, restaurants, or in board rooms, help reduce social isolation as well as feelings of stress.

By thinking outside the box, practice leaders can better support physicians in achieving a healthy work-life balance and finding greater satisfaction in their everyday work. That’s a win not just for physicians, but also for patients.