Kimberly Casteline, Ph.D.

As a Gather-ed group facilitator, I have the pleasure of interacting day-to-day with amazing clinicians as they collaborate and learn together on our platform. Working to design and implement learning opportunities that are concise, engaging, and impactful has given me an even greater appreciation for the unique pressures faced by healthcare professionals, especially in the midst of a pandemic. We’ve all seen the data on clinician burnout and many of you have experienced it first-hand. But thankfully, there is also a growing body of literature on actionable solutions to mitigate burnout. I’ve been diving into some of the latest studies on how to reverse burnout and I’ve summarized some of the findings below in the hope that these take-aways will be of use to you as we head into 2022.

#1 Enabling Teamwork

In an examination of fifty studies, DeChant et al, in Effect of Organization-Directed Workplace Interventions on Physician Burnout: A Systematic Review, found that the most impactful organization-driven intervention to reduce physician burnout was enabling teamwork. Specifically, these organizations implemented team-based care models, improved communication among clinicians, and utilized scribes for electronic health record processes. The twenty studies that focused on teamwork revealed improvements in physician burnout, satisfaction, and stress. In addition, as teamwork increased, exhaustion decreased.

Actionable take away: Advocate that your practice or organization make use of all available skill sets on the care team so that no one role is overburdened and professional satisfaction is improved for everyone.

#2 Practicing Gratefulness

Gratitude at Work: Prospective Cohort Study of a Web-Based, Single Exposure Well-Being Intervention for Health Care Workers (Adair, et al, 2020) examined whether writing a letter of gratitude, would have an impact on the emotional exhaustion, happiness, and work-life balance of healthcare workers, all factors indicating burnout. In a one-week follow-up, respondents reported significant improvements in all three measures, even if they did not actually send the letter. A similar study with college students reported improved mental health at four and twelve weeks after the letter writing exercise. Three months later, gratitude letter writers showed greater activation in the medial prefrontal cortex when they experienced gratitude in the fMRI machine. Expressing gratitude clearly has positive physical and psychological impacts. Nevertheless, it can be hard to think about gratitude when you are tired, stressed, and overwhelmed. But gratitude is not just about being thankful for everything that has gone well, it is also about reflecting on what you’ve gained from the challenges, failures, and set-backs. Dr. Meredith Barrett does that beautifully in her letter, Dear Medicine, I Love You.

Actionable take-away: Whether it’s writing a monthly letter of gratitude or journaling three things you’re grateful for every morning, make the practice of gratitude a regular part of your life. 

#3 Making Connections

Clinicians’ lounges were once centralized locations where members of the healthcare team could take a break, grab a bite to eat, and have professional, as well as personal conversations. They were places to make connections and be in community. Of course, Covid has made gathering together in physical proximity challenging at best, given that safety is the first priority. However, clinicians still need to connect with each other, for a plethora of reasons, not the least of which is that one of the primary causes of burnout is feeling disconnected. Paradoxically, while Covid has forced us physically apart, it has also precipitated an exponential increase in opportunities to come together online. One of the most productive ways for clinicians to take advantage of those opportunities is by joining an online community of learners.

For example, at Gather-ed we are focused on providing learning experiences that prioritize colleague-to-colleague interactions. Courses consist of asynchronous self-study modules as well as synchronous live discussions. Group members have the convenience of learning material at their own pace while also being able to talk about the content with a group of peers. In fact, the inter-specialty dialogue in the live group discussions is what group members like most about our courses. That’s no surprise since dialogic learning promotes analysis, reflection, and deeper understanding of new material and it’s a lot more enjoyable than learning alone.

Actionable take-away: Seek out opportunities to make connections by joining communities of learners with similar interests.

In conclusion, enabling teamwork in your environment, expressing gratitude on a regular basis, and increasing opportunities to connect with other clinicians are three tools supported by the literature that I hope you are able to employ in 2022 in order to increase your well-being and professional satisfaction. In the meantime, I wish you all a healthy and rewarding 2022.