University of Tennessee

Drummond Coaches Area Physician Leaders on Step-by-Step Burnout Prevention

May 19, 2017

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business and the University of Tennessee Medical Center recently hosted Dike Drummond, an internationally recognized expert on physician burnout. A group of physicians and healthcare leaders from throughout the region attended the workshop.

Drummond’s presentation was based on his book, “Stop Physician Burnout: What to Do When Working Harder Isn’t Working,” which has sold more than 25,000 copies. He helped participants define physician burnout causes, symptoms and pathophysiology, as well as identify a step-by-step prevention formula.

Keith Gray, a surgical oncologist and director at the UT Medical Center, said his organization invited staff to attend the event as part of the rollout of a physician wellness program.

“Dike Drummond’s visit has been a great way to make our physicians aware of what burnout is, how to prevent it, and what some strategies are to combat it,” Gray said. “I want our physicians to know that we have to stop describing the problem and start developing strategies for prevention.”

According to a report by industry news source Medscape, doctors nationwide experienced burnout at rates ranging from 40 to 55 percent in 2016. In his presentation, Drummond cited studies done by the Mayo Clinic that demonstrate physician burnout is increasing annually within that range. Healthcare mergers, increased documentation through electronic medical record systems, increased emphasis on quality metrics and the rigidity of medical training all contribute to physician burnout, Drummond said.

Workshop participants learned hands-on, practical methods for preventing physician burnout. Those methods included developing a boundary ritual to separate work and home life, scheduling vacations and leisure time on work calendars, and relinquishing increased control to staff members. While the risk of burnout cannot be eliminated, it can be mitigated through stress management, Drummond said. He pointed out that, while stress can be productive as a temporary state, its management is key to avoiding a crisis.

“When a person burns out, they become disengaged enough that it ripples into their personal life and affects their families,” Drummond said. “Once your energy is drained, you feel threatened by the energy demands the next patient will place on you.”

Drummond showed participants additional Mayo Clinic findings that indicate about 6.4 percent of physicians have reported suicidal tendencies in recent years. The intensity and rigidity of medical training requires physicians push past boundaries and “forget they ever had free will,” he said, adding that physicians confronted about reaching a point of crisis often deny having a problem.

“Intense denial is part of their programming,” Drummond told participants. “When you talk to them, please come from your heart. Your outreach could save their life.”