Alleviating Burnout: One Conference’s Structural Take on this Industry-Wide Issue

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Thoughts from Lori Murphy, Senior Director, on her experience at the Beyond Resiliency Training Conference at MD Anderson in Houston, Sept 25-26 2017

On the tails of destructive Hurricane Harvey, University of Texas MD Anderson Center pushed on with a 2 day conference – Beyond Resiliency Training: Organizational Strategies to Alleviate Burnout and Increase Wellness in Academic Medicine. With a sold-out registration, this symposium promised spirited discussion and rich dialogue around the solutions to burnout.

The symposium started with the well-regarded Christine Maslach, PhD, one of the pioneers of burnout research and the author of the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI). She set the tone for the two day event, pushing for innovation and to turning our attention to the causes of burnout. In her very scientific view, understanding the causes of burnout will be the impetus for building effective, lasting solutions.

One of the most engaging speakers in the first day, and overall, was Time Magazine Deputy Health Editor Mandy Oaklander, who presented Doctors on Life Support: Inside the Movement to Save the Mental Health of America’s Physicians. Mandy held the audience captive with one surgical resident’s story – and the surprise here is this resident was at Stanford, an organization working hard to make wellbeing a priority for physicians. That Time Magazine is paying close attention to this issue validates the importance of this symposium.

In the afternoon, Greenleaf had the opportunity to present a poster entitled Helping the Helpers: Structural Resiliency Interventions for USAID and accompanying handout. The response was excellent – attendees saw the direct connection between humanitarian work and healthcare, and there were many conversations about lessons learned at USAID that translate aptly to hospitals and healthcare systems.

Darrell Kirch, MD, president and CEO of Association of American Medical Colleges, kicked off the second day with humor and humility. He told one particularly powerful story about a leadership moment when he elected to accept the threatened resignation of a disruptive physician, to the collective relief of all staff. Dr Kirch called for the group to invest the time and energy required to build a new culture that practices resiliency and actively reduces the burdens that feed burnout.

Other speakers included leaders in the field such as Tait Shanafelt, MD; Christine Sinksy, MD; Thomas Bodenheimer, MD; and Colin West, MD. Each shared their unique perspectives and proposed solutions to moving beyond resiliency training and pushing us to structural, organization-level interventions.