Practice Economics

To Battle Burnout, Jerome C. Siy, MD, CHIE, SFHM, Instructs Hospitalist Leaders to Engage, Communicate, and Create a “Culture”


Studies show nearly one in three hospitalists will experience long-term exhaustion or diminished interest in their work.1 Burned out physicians have low empathy, don’t communicate well, and provide poor quality of care. Not only does burnout lower quality of care, it is also costly and affects physicians’ personal lives. Unfortunately, despite more than a decade of research and effort to improve burnout, there seems to be no secret formula.

“We see burnout in our quality metrics. We see it in increased medical errors. Patient compliance can be tied to burnout and poor patient satisfaction, as well,” said Jerome C. Siy, MD, CHIE, SFHM, during his HM15 session last month at the Gaylord National Resort and Conference Center in National Harbor, Md. “What is really important to understand is that burnout results in high turnover and early retirement. Conservative estimates tell us a burned out physician can cost the hospital system $250,000.”

Dr. Siy’s talk, “Preventing Hospitalist Burnout through Engagement,” went beyond the basics of burnout (higher rates of substance abuse, depression, suicidal ideation, and family conflicts) and explored the systematic reasons for its occurrence in hospital medicine. The 2009 winner of SHM’s Award for Clinical Excellence also outlined a handful of ways HM groups can engage and combat burnout.

“What is interesting is that the rate that our profession has burnout is inversely proportional to the rate of the U.S. general population,” said Dr. Siy, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School and department head of hospital medicine at HealthPartners Medical Group in Minneapolis. “In the general U.S. population, the higher your level of education, the lower the rates of burnout. And yet we, physicians, have a remarkably high rate of burnout compared with those at our education level.

“And when they broke it out by specialty, it was front-line physicians that have the highest rates of burnout.”

Dr. Siy says burnout is partly the fault of the “system,” in terms of workload and performance pressures. His hospitalist group has implemented mindfulness training with a guru and empathy training with age simulators. They employ geographic-based teams and bedside rounds with nursing. They’ve even hired scribes on the observation unit.

“Not only are we trying to address burnout from the individual physician perspective, but we’re trying to address the causes of burnout,” he says.

Dr. Siy also showed attendees a video on engagement by best-selling author Daniel Pink. The three factors Pink believes lead to better performance and personal satisfaction are autonomy, mastery, purpose. And Pink encourages business leaders to “take compensation off the table.”

“He talks about how compensation is important and drives things, but actually, if you are fair with your compensation, it no longer incents your workforce,” Dr. Siy reiterates. “So if compensation is a big issue for you, you should know that.”

Most important, he says, “It’s about creating a culture.” He provided this list of ways to engage hospitalists:

  • Add a measure of physician engagement to your scorecard;
  • Translate engagement data by having presence in the workspace, even when off service;
  • Employ individualized and group time to provide feedback and mentoring, develop relationships, learn new skills, and grow;
  • Have physicians lead and partner in quality improvement efforts;
  • Have regular, formal meetings with opportunities for open discussion;
  • Incorporate professional development into your culture;
  • Develop a common sense of purpose inside and outside of the hospital; and
  • Structure compensation to reflect your values.

“Everyone in your group has to have an opportunity to grow,” he says. “They need to know that you, the group leaders … and the system care about them.” TH


1. Hinami K, Whelan CT, Miller JA, Wolosin RJ, Wetterneck TB, Society of Hospital Medicine Career Satisfaction Task Force. Job characteristics, satisfaction, and burnout across hospitalist practice models. J Hosp Med. 2012;7(5):402-410.

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