2023 Health Care Heroes: Center fights physician burnout

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From left, Dr. Kevin Coss; Dr. Tricia Hern; Ann Ostrom; Annie Echelbarger and Taylor Wildauer (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

Top honoree, Innovations in Health Care

The Center for Physician Well-Being and Professional Development
Community Health Network

Long before COVID-19, there was an epidemic of burnout among physicians. A worldwide pandemic that has spanned three years and strained hospital finances has only made burnout worse.

In 2017, Community Health Network acknowledged the problem. Its Center for Physician Well-Being and Professional Development, which was established that year, was the solution.

The center operates with four goals: Reduce and alleviate the stress of practicing medicine, improve work/life balance, bring joy to the practice of medicine and develop, coach and mentor physicians at each stage of their career. 

“In 2017, it was clear that, nationwide, there was an epidemic of burnout, and there was plenty of data to suggest that that had a huge impact on patient care,” said Dr. Kevin Coss, chief wellness officer. “Fortunately, our leadership had the vision to be proactive in that and recognize that, to take good care of patients, we [have] to take good care of our doctors.”

The center provides programs, services and interventions to physicians, advanced-practice providers, residents and fellows as well as their families.

Beyond burnout prevention, the center offers well-being coaching and counseling resources, leadership development opportunities to enhance leadership skills and confidence, opportunities to connect with other physicians in small groups, career-fit options and more. 

Because physicians often don’t take advantage of in-house employee assistance program services, Community provides them with free, 24/7 confidential peer coaching, counseling and concierge services through a contract with VITAL WorkLife. Services also include a live-answer 24-hour crisis intervention service. Meanwhile, the center has focused on suicide prevention through education and by developing an internal direct line to Community’s crisis team and an on-call psychiatrist.

“Significant work is aimed at giving clinicians more time in front of patients, reducing tedious time spent in front of the computer, and ultimately delivering an improved work-life integration, greater joy of practice and enhanced patient care,” the nomination reads. 

In addition to a well-being focus, the center also promotes leadership development through a leadership academy, which provides formal training to those who are interested in enhancing their leadership skills in a 12-month, interactive training program.

“I think it teaches people different skills than they learn in medical school and through their residency and training,” said Dr. Tricia Hern, vice president of improvement and physician leadership development. “It’s about relating to people, and it can help them a lot in their personal lives, but it helps them a lot in their role as a leader of Community Health Network.”

Already, some 150 physicians have completed the training, and 60 more are in the next cohort. Training is also being added to encourage greater diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Coss said the center isn’t an extension of human resources. Community has invested significant resources in the program, including hiring five people to staff it. 

That makes it different from most other well-being programs, which often are dependent on physicians volunteering to operate them.

Ann Ostrom, director of the center, said the external resources the center provides through VITAL WorkLife, including a concierge service, have a 40% utilization rate. 

She said the center takes every opportunity it can to promote those services and to signal to physicians that it’s OK to ask for help.•

Read more Health Care Heroes profiles.

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