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What Health Care Can Teach Other Industries About Preventing Burnout

The first week of business school was an introduction to a world of new concepts. Just as the foundational coursework was coming to an end, we took on a daylong deep dive into case studies examining ways of ensuring corporate wellbeing. As a physician leading the wellbeing program for the largest health care provider in the Mid-Atlantic region, this was a pleasant departure into familiar territory.

It was, however, surprising to see articles reflect an approach that, in the health care world, would now be considered antiquated practice. For example, the cases revealed a clear emphasis on employees’ personal resilience rather than system change. Other articles pointed out the need for positive thinking to decrease the contagion of negative emotions, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The message was clear: To minimize burnout you need to maximize yourself. The approach seemed the epitome of what we in medicine had been pushing against for years as increasing evidence has revealed that burnout is primarily a result of organizational forces rather than a deficiency in personal resilience.

On the surface, it may seem paradoxical to look to health care for ways to address workforce wellbeing. With burnout rates approaching 50% in physicians and nurses, the medical field is an unlikely role model for wellbeing programs. And yet, it is precisely because of the epidemic of health care worker distress that the health care sector can be seen as the blueprint for mitigating workforce burnout.

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