Physician Experience: 8 Guiding Principles

Physicians must excel not only in clinical medicine but also in the management of healthcare organizations in today’s rapidly changing medical field. Given the increasing complexities of healthcare, maintaining these standards is key to the future successes of our organizations. The “how” of this yeoman’s work, though, is the elephant in the room.

Ted A. James, MD, MHCM shared his thoughts in a recent article in Harvard Medical School’s Trends in Medicine. He posts that keeping ahead of the curve is possible when physicians are able to adapt to ‘disruptive innovations’—i.e. the latest trends shaping healthcare—and if they cannot, they and the organizations they represent, will be left in the dust.

This begs the question: How can we demand this of our physicians if they are emotionally exhausted, cynical, and detached from their patients? In other words, burned out. Abstract in nature and, by default, a subjective topic, burnout is something we struggle to define in concrete terms. We have been grappling with how to institutionalize a concept that, inherently, everyone thinks about differently.

Perhaps the clearest way to think about the it is in the form of a question – namely, how can a physician be guided to excel in his or her practice and to contribute to the management of the organization without experiencing burnout?

I’ve shared below some principles I’ve put into practice, in whole or in part, to guide organizations through creating environments that will optimize the physician experience and ideally lower physician burnout.

 Eight Guiding Physician Experience Mantras

  1.  Physician Experience begins with the hiring process and therefore should be reflected through intentional recruitment practices that align with organizational values.
  2.  Physician Experience should embody professionalism as part of on-boarding and ongoing development processes for all physicians.
  3.  All physicians should be given opportunities to participate in development activities that align professional interests with strategic organizational goals.
  4.  Physician advisory councils and governance bodies should play a key role in guiding ongoing changes that impact front-line care.
  5.  Interprofessional teams are the backbone of excellent patient care, where all caregivers leverage their own and each other’s strengths, approaching care as an interdependent unit. Time and energy should be dedicated to exploring ways to continue building successes with these models and to educating future caregivers.
  6. Physician experience needs to find ways for physicians to seek out emotional support when they are burned out without consequence or ramifications to their clinical work.
  7. Physician experience needs to be built on the appreciation of individual excellence. Now, more than ever, physicians need to hear from grateful patients, colleagues, and leadership, about how important their work is and that their individual contributions are making an impact.
  8. Physician experience needs to be built to support physician wellness, including educating physicians on the best practices to prevent physician burnout and creating cultures that support the joy of medicine.

This list is by no means exclusive and the dedication of time and resources to provide and coordinate these types of opportunities can be a challenge when there are so many other competing demands. However, the future is in our hands. Now is the time to audit our practices and transform the environment for our physicians. Given the current burnout rate and the looming physician shortage, I don’t think we have a choice.


Terri Christensen, Ph.D., CEO, H&H Associates

Dr. Christensen is the President of H&H Associates, a talent management firm based in Cleveland, Ohio. She has provided executive coaching and consulting services in the healthcare, higher education, and professional services sectors. Dr. Christensen launched her healthcare career at the Cleveland Clinic as the Executive Director of Physician Leadership. As part of that role, she oversaw physician vitality, physician onboarding, leadership development, physician career development, physician succession planning, and the Cleveland Clinic Academy.

Dr. Christensen can be reached at [email protected]

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