5 ways to use creativity to combat physician burnout

Creativityby Starla Fitch, MD

Those of us in healthcare face tough decisions every day:

  • Should we spend less time with Patient A so we can have more time to tell Patient B about a bad pathology report?
  • Should we work through lunch to see a few more patients but risk burning out our office staff at a time when morale is at an all-time low?
  • Should we skip our child’s piano recital to attend that meeting with the hospital supervisors that may impact our call schedule for the next twelve months?

What’s a weary healthcare provider to do?

I have a suggestion that may surprise you.  It’s time to pull out our creative toolkit and be proactive. And yes, we folks in medicine have more creativity than you might expect.

Here are five ways to put creativity to work to combat physician burnout:

 1. Allow your staff to help you with your schedule. Whether it involves scheduling surgical cases or office visits, your technicians, nurses and administrative assistants often have some seriously great ideas. Just give them a chance. One of my staff suggested having patients with more complicated problems arrive ten minutes earlier to allow extra time to get that all-important history. The staff is less rushed. The patient feels heard. The information obtained is critical and improves patient care. Win-win-win.

2. Voice your concerns about something that isnt working to your colleagues. Whether it is a procedure in the O.R. or the way the new coding is working, chances are your colleagues have experienced the same thing. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day. You may be able to help someone with a new technique for an old problem. Sharing information can save time and reduce frustration.

3. Give credit where credit is due. This may not sound creative. But in this hurry-up world, we often don’t thank people for helping out or stepping up. Studies show that people are willing to take a substantial cut in pay (up to $30K less, in some studies) to receive positive acknowledgement. Now there’s a creative way to make your employees feel appreciated and improve the bottom line.

 4. Engage your patients to help you help them. Instead of recommending the same treatment plan that isn’t working (cut back on fried foods, get more exercise, quit smoking), ask your patients to help you design a plan that they can commit to. Starting with small steps, rather than a global “lose twenty pounds by your next visit” may be more manageable. Spend a few minutes asking your patients what would be doable for them. It may save you from preaching the “same old, same old” on subsequent visits.

5. Think outside the box about how to bring improved satisfaction to your job. Do you prefer performing procedures or would you rather try to troubleshoot diagnoses? Does it feed your soul to listen to your patients’ concerns and help them see their way to improved health? How can you maximize what you love about your job and decrease what you don’t? We all enjoy different things within our practice. Maybe talking this over with other colleagues in your practice and dividing up the patient “pie” can help you each find more “sweet spots” in your day.

Infusing your medical world with a big dose of creativity may open the door for improved satisfaction for you, your patients and your staff. As Albert Einstein said, “Creativity is contagious; pass it on.”

StarlaFitchStarla Fitch, MD, is an oculoplastic surgeon and senior partner in practice in Atlanta. Her book, Remedy for Burnout, is an international bestseller. Dr. Fitch is also the creator of www.lovemedicineagain.com, an online community for doctors, other health professionals, and patients who want to restore humanity to health care. You can follow her on Twitter at @StarlaFitchMD.