Impact of Organizational Leadership on Physician Burnout and Satisfaction – Mayo Study Supports Physician Coaching

by Francine Gaillour, MD

in Career Resilience & Fulfillment,Executive Coaching for Physicians,Transformational Leadership

A timely and tremendous study just published by Tait D. Shanafelt, MD et al in the Mayo Clinic Proceeding, “Impact of Organizational Leadership on Physician Burnout and Satisfaction,” describes how leadership effectiveness (or lack of) can directly impacts physician satisfaction.  I have no doubt this will be a landmark study that will inspire healthcare organizations to rethink how they are approaching leadership development — not just for physicians but also for non-clinician healthcare executives.

The study found a strong correlation between physician sense of fulfillment and their responses to 12 questions about their supervisor.  This is what I find exciting: When you look at the 12 questions, it’s not hard to see that almost every dimension can be improved through physician leadership training and focused coaching.

Here are the 12 areas where physicians were asked to rate from a scale of 1 to 5:

Items Evaluating Physician Opinion of the Leadership Qualities of Their Immediate Physician Supervisor

To what extent do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements about (name of immediate supervisor)?

  • Holds career development conversations with me
  • Inspires me to do my best
  • Empowers me to do my job
  • Is interested in my opinion
  • Encourages employees to suggest ideas for improvement
  • Treats me with respect and dignity
  • Provides helpful feedback and coaching on my performance
  • Keeps me informed about changes taking place at Mayo Clinic
  • Recognizes me for a job well done
  • Encourages me to develop my talents and skills
  • I would recommend working for (name of immediate supervisor)
  • Overall, how satisfied are you with (name of immediate supervisor)

The study results are nothing short of a call to action to revamp and rethink physician leadership development approaches:

“These findings demonstrate the importance of front line leadership on the well-being and professional satisfaction of physicians working for a large health care organization. Leadership ratings demonstrated a strong association with burnout and satisfaction at the level of individual physicians after adjusting for age, sex, duration of employment at Mayo Clinic, and specialty area.”

The dimensions of effective physician leadership as evaluated by the composite leader score in our study could be summarized as follows: inform, engage, inspire, develop, and recognize. Many of the leadership qualities we evaluated in these dimensions were specific and teachable behaviors, such as keeping people informed, encouraging reports to suggest ideas for improvement, having career development conversations, providing feedback and coaching, and recognizing a job well done.

As an executive coach for physician leaders for over 15 years, I am thrilled to see this research support what I have observed and coached for almost two decades.  Furthermore, the authors’ conclusions that these important dimensions of physician leadership are teachable is right on the mark.  Every organization would do well to create a simple coaching program to teach those very dimensions the authors delineate as being essential: inform, engage, inspire, develop, recognize.  In fact, these coaching skills are the core of what the Physician Coaching Institute teaches in our “Coaching Skills Essentials for Physician Leaders” course.

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