Addressing Burnout and Building Resiliency—Is Anyone Doing It Well in Healthcare?

Thoughts from Lori Murphy, Senior Director, on her experience at the CENTILE conference (Washington D.C., October 23-25, 2017)


The above question was posed at CENTILE, and the answer will either depress you or validate your beliefs—or perhaps both. The number of organizations lauded as solutions-oriented was strikingly small, and all of those organizations happen to be present at this conference.

From Stanford University to Berkshire Health, from Ohio State University to Mayo Clinic, there are some fantastic programs in place to support our physicians, nurses, and allied health professionals that specifically address the growing problem of burnout. A small but mighty number of healthcare industry leaders appear to be taking this problem seriously—so much so that they are traveling across the country speaking about their research findings and bold interventions. I had the ability to see some of these speakers in Houston, TX; San Francisco, CA; and in Washington, DC all in the span of a few months.

The commitment and energy of these few, highly committed organizations creates a glaring contrast with the many other healthcare organizations that are not showing up. There are thousands of hospitals in the US, and yet I saw the same speakers and even met many of the same attendees at these three recent events. Does this mean that no one else cares about the issue? I don’t believe that. However, caring about an issue and putting hard resources towards solving it are two different things. Many people care about the impact of burnout, understand that it makes their organizations more fragile and their people more brittle, and want it to be reduced. But how many hospitals and healthcare systems are willing to put hard dollars and protected time against it?

Today’s healthcare executives have countless priorities to juggle, and investment in staff wellbeing too often becomes a “check the box” exercise. Turnover due to burnout hurts less in competitive markets than in rural areas. Mounting pressure to meet quality metrics often trumps initiatives on improving happiness at work and decreasing emotional fatigue. On one hand, that makes sense. On the other hand, it seems that the healthcare industry is robbing Peter to pay Paul—sacrificing the long-term support of a strong workforce for a short-term advertising claim. Forward-looking leaders make the connection between the wellness of today’s healthcare staff and tomorrow’s success.

A number of exciting presentations at CENTILE spoke to these long-term effects. Diane Kelly, Chief Operating Officer at Berkshire Health, shared their experience of incorporating meditation into their monthly meetings. She admitted her initial skepticism about mindfulness efforts, but once they were doing it for about a year, she noticed a shift. People were behaving differently and were invested in the experience. Berkshire Health measured the impact and the results were impressive: 70% of participants added deep breathing into their leadership toolbox. Susan Moffatt-Bruce at Ohio State University shared an intervention that included onsite, weekly, 60-minute mindfulness sessions that were easy for staff to attend. The correlated improvements spoke for themselves, with a noted increase in patient satisfaction & staff engagement, and a decrease in C.diff infections as well as fewer hospital-associated pressure ulcers.

Many independent researchers, as well as representatives from forward-thinking organizations were at CENTILE to share their results, all of which showed promise. Healthcare organizations that are taking action to address burnout and build resiliency within their teams should be proud and share their experiences widely. The more data to support the efficacy and tangible benefits of these interventions, the more likely other healthcare organizations will formalize their own offerings.

Let’s make the answer to the question “who is addressing burnout and building resiliency in healthcare” a lengthy answer—a list that numbers in the hundreds or thousands. Caring for our carers is not a luxury—it’s a necessity.

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