High rates of physician burnout have pushed healthcare to focus more on physicians’ professional satisfaction. For example, in the past decade, leaders have started talking about the Quadruple Aim of healthcare, which emphasizes provider well-being as a critical consideration alongside the patient experience, population health, and affordability. 

But there’s still a long way to go, and doctors have a role in shaping their professional satisfaction. How can doctors and other clinicians improve their happiness at work? 

Researchers studying physicians’ professional satisfaction have found two primary trends:

  1. When physicians perceive themselves or their practice as providing high-quality care, they report better professional satisfaction.
  2. While physicians approve of EHRs in concept, poor usability of current EHRs negatively impacts professional satisfaction. Physicians are especially frustrated when EHRs lead to time-consuming data entry, interference with face-to-face patient care, less fulfilling work content, poor interoperability, and degrading clinical documentation.

Tips for a better workday

Let’s examine how physicians can use the findings above to create conditions supporting greater professional satisfaction. If you focus on just two areas, they should be 1) providing quality care and 2) making your EHR work for you. 

Provide quality care

Physicians report better professional satisfaction when they perceive themselves as providing high-quality care. While this correlation may seem obvious, many factors – from practice leadership’s priorities to conditions imposed by payers – push physician practices to focus on quantity over quality.

If you believe your practice is compromising on quality, here are some ideas that might help:

Make your EHR work for you

Many physicians associate EHRs with a growing administrative burden that leads to burnout. But doctors also acknowledge the benefits of digital health records, such as easier access to information and improved quality of care.

Physicians’ professional satisfaction will improve commensurate with their ability to make EHRs a valuable clinical tool that enhances, rather than detracts from, their workday.

If EHRs are currently a source of frustration bogging you down, consider these ideas:

Additional focus areas to improve physicians’ professional satisfaction

The most important ways to improve your job satisfaction are to feel confident you’re providing quality care and to make your EHR work for you. But other variables matter. 

When asked what fosters professional satisfaction, doctors bring up six additional areas

  1. Autonomy and work control: Physicians are more satisfied when they have freedom and control over the pace and content of clinical work. While practice ownership is not for everyone, employed physicians can still take steps to control factors immediately affecting their day-to-day clinical work. 
  2. Practice leadership: Professional satisfaction is higher when physicians and clinical colleagues feel leadership shares their values. Foster open communication channels with leaders and actively engage in discussions about new initiatives.
  3. Collegiality, fairness, and respect: Lead by example in promoting a respectful environment and supporting fair treatment among colleagues. Many physicians experience a greater sense of collegiality when they meet frequently with colleagues.
  4. Work quantity and pace: A primary pain point for physicians and clinical staff (especially in primary care) is the pressure to provide a high volume of services with limited time and resources. Work with your team to identify workflow and process improvements that ensure an acceptable quantity and pace of work.
  5. Work content, allied health professionals, and support staff: Doctors generally describe better satisfaction when their work content matches their training and dissatisfaction when they perform work that other staff could perform. Delegate fairly and develop long-term relationships with well-trained, trusted, and capable allied support staff. 
  6. Payment, income, and practice finances: While most doctors feel well compensated, income stability is essential to overall professional satisfaction. Speak up when practice changes lead to unfair payment arrangements, but be honest about tradeoffs and seek work contexts that meet your income needs.

If you’re a physician feeling burnt out or considering leaving your role, first ask if there are steps you can take to improve your current work situation. 

Which factors above would make the biggest difference in your professional satisfaction? Discuss these with a trusted friend or colleague and brainstorm actionable steps you can take.

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