UT System launches comprehensive effort to increase physician well-being

AUSTIN—Long hours and a high-stress environment coupled with mounting administrative work and bureaucracy has at least half of physicians across the nation feeling overworked and emotionally exhausted, a dynamic that – given the shortage of doctors – has become a public health care crisis, according to American Medical Association.

The University of Texas System is addressing the crisis by taking an early leadership role in the development of a comprehensive initiative to increase physician wellness and resiliency.

“As the employer of thousands of physicians, University of Texas institutions have a great stake in assuring that they can thrive despite the many stresses and pressures of their work environment,” said Ray Greenberg, M.D., Ph.D., the UT System’s executive vice chancellor of health affairs. “The UT System aspires to be a leader in developing and implementing strategies to support the well-being of our caregivers."

The UT System’s multi-pronged plan includes conducting a system-wide assessment of the problem, creating focus groups and recommending solutions at the clinical, departmental, institutional and system level.

The UT System also will hold a symposium at UT MD Anderson in September to convene national thought leaders to discuss the causes, consequences and solutions for physician burnout in academic health settings. Christina Maslach, Ph.D., the nation’s leading expert on workplace burnout and a professor emerita of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, will be a key note speaker.

The initiative was launched in response to concerns raised by the UT System Faculty Advisory Council last year.

“Doctors are consummate professionals and we’re trained from the beginning that the patient comes first and we do whatever we have to so that their needs are met,” said Jonathan Cheng, M.D., an associate professor in the Department of Plastic Surgery at UT Southwestern and chairman of the UT System Faculty Advisory Council. “Sometimes that comes at a personal cost and sometimes that comes at a professional cost.”

Last year, a study by the American Medical Association found that for every hour physicians spend with patients, they spend an additional two hours completing medical records and paperwork plus an additional one to two hours at home doing clerical work. New federal requirements and the implementation of electronic health records have only added to the burden physicians shoulder.

In fact, just this March, the CEOs of 10 leading health care systems in the U.S. along with the AMA issued a call to action to address the root causes of physician burnout before it further threatens the health care system.

Ann Killary, Ph.D., a professor of translational molecular pathology at MD Anderson and member of the Faculty Advisory Council who is co-leading the physician wellness initiative with Cheng, said her physician colleagues are gratified that the issue has garnered support at the System level.

“We want to leverage the size and strength of the UT System to affect change and we want to lead the national conversation on this topic,” Killary said.

Chancellor William H. McRaven said reducing physician burnout needs to be a priority because of its broad repercussions.

“I think this is a major, major issue…and we have to aggressively address it,” McRaven told the Regents at a recent meeting. “We can be a national leader in this and we should.”

About The University of Texas System
Educating students, providing care for patients, conducting groundbreaking basic, applied and clinical research, and serving the needs of Texans and the nation for more than 130 years, The University of Texas System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States. With 14 institutions and an enrollment of more than 228,000 students, the UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees, educates approximately two-thirds of the state’s health care professionals annually and accounts for almost 70 percent of all research funds awarded to public institutions in Texas. The UT System’s operating budget for FY 2017 is $17.9 billion, including $3 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. With more than 20,000 faculty – including Nobel laureates and many members of the National Academies – and nearly 80,000 health care professionals, researchers, student advisors and support staff, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.

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Jenny LaCoste-Caputo: jcaputo@utsystem.edu  • 512-499-4361(direct) • 512-574-5777 (cell) 
Karen Adler: kadler@utsystem.edu  • 512-499-4360 (direct) • 210-912-8055 (cell)