When I wrote about the benefits of administrators shadowing frontline clinicians, I felt compelled to look for an opportunity to go to the front lines myself. After all, it has been 20 years since I donned a white coat and stethoscope. I’m firmly entrenched in the identity of writer but know that first hand research is invaluable.
I asked an internist in a hospital-based primary care clinic if I could follow her for an afternoon. She readily agreed and suggested I might bring a stethoscope. I decided to leave mine stored in the attic and assured her when I arrived that my focus was her and how she worked, not her patients.
The afternoon reminded me of what drew me to clinical medicine in the first place—the privileged connection with patients—and reaffirmed why the barriers and frustrations that get in the way of that connection and lead to burnout are such an important problem to solve.
I was thrilled to see that after 20 years away the basic components of clinical care—history-taking, diagnosis, treatment, and developing a caring relationship with a patient—have changed very little. Yes, the presence of the electronic health record (EHR) is a seismic change from when I trained and practiced, but the connection with the patient and the mystery-solving were the old friends I remembered.
The question burning in my mind as I watched her work was, “How did she do it? How, in the midst of a burnout epidemic, did she manage to remain unscathed and clearly joyful in her work?” During the afternoon I pondered what I’ve learned about the underlying causes of physician burnout to try to answer this question.
The day after I participated in the Second Wingspread Summit on Preventing Physician Burnout in Jacksonville Florida, I was considering the high points of the event: connecting with others who are committed to understanding and addressing the problem, learning about courageous organizations that are testing ways to fix the root causes, hearing recently published evidence on what works.
As I drove my rental car the 140 miles to Orlando for the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s Annual Forum, I thought about feedback that might help make the next summit that much more spectacular.
My only regret, I thought as I contemplated the flat, straight freeway down eastern coast of the Sunshine State, was that we didn’t have an opportunity for everyone to introduce themselves. Well, I thought, in a group of 3 dozen people, a minute or two each eats up a good chunk of time.
From there, I wondered what I would say if I were asked to introduce myself and explain my passion for addressing burnout—why the topic is so important to me—in as few words as possible.