Physician and Faculty Burnout as an Occupational Risk in Academic Medicine

By Christopher Colenda, M.D., M.P.H., and Kimberly Smith

We recently had the privilege of publishing an article in Academic Health Focus, a publication of the Governance Institute, on the challenges of occupational stress and burnout within academic medicine.  The modern academic medicine environment is complex, and faculty face multiple competing, and at times conflicting, work expectations that lead to occupational stress. These include:

  • a lack of integration of mission and vision across the AMC;
  • a shift from the “tripartite” to a “quintuple” academic mission of the AMC, in which community engagement and population health are added to the aims of teaching, research and clinical care;
  • expanding academic expectations for faculty, particularly in regard to administrative burdens that directly compete with their principle professional interests of teaching and research.

To address these issues and to ensure the health and well-being of faculty, we propose several solutions in the article, including making faculty well-being a stated institutional priority so that it is woven into key conversations and decision making. Examples of institutional commitment to address faculty well-being include fully supporting and staffing a Chief Wellness Officer office;  ensuring that the expanded missions and additional responsibilities for faculty are taken into consideration during annual performance reviews or initial appointment, and establishing policies (such as appointment and promotion policies) that are aligned with job expectations, minimize faculty burden, and reward performance.

AMC leaders have a responsibility to understand the various aspects of faculty burnout today, and to develop comprehensive ways to address it while promoting resilience and overall wellness among faculty.

Please click here for the Member Download page for this article in Academic Health Focus.

Recently retired, Christopher Colenda, M.D., M.P.H., was a Physician Executive Consultant with WittKieffer in the Academic Medicine and Health Sciences practice.

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