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Lisa Billings, DO, works a long day on Wednesdays—she sees patients at Blue Hill Family Practice until 7 pm. As luck would have it, that’s the same day that the school scheduled her children’s spring concert. She has a duty to her patients which conflicts with her desire to be a mother who is there for her kids. “I think as providers, we can have a lot of difficulty feeling that we are there for our patients, but also making sure we’re taking care of ourselves, our home lives, and our kids,” Dr. Billings said.

DSC_0064.JPGDr. Billings was one of 80 providers from across EMHS who attended EMHS’ Fifth Annual Provider Summit on April 26 – 27 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bangor. Providers participated in breakout sessions which addressed several important issues, including provider burnout. Beyond routine daily stresses and busy schedules, burnout is defined as an exhaustion of physical or emotional strength, or motivation usually because of prolonged stress or frustration. Work-life balance is only one of the components of burnout. Other contributing factors include a hectic work environment, a lack of control over the workday, and feelings of being overworked and underappreciated. “I think sometimes we feel pressure that our work and patients must be our priority and that’s hard to feel ok with sometimes,” Dr. Billings said.  

What she is feeling is quite common as physicians and other healthcare providers can be more susceptible to burnout than other professions. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, in 2016, 63 percent of family physicians nationwide reported experiencing burnout. This is exactly why it was one of the featured topics at the summit.

DSC_0077.JPG“We tend to be hard workers, control freaks, perfectionists, and that’s what got us through medical school or residency. We’re also very passionate about taking care of patients, so we don’t want to appear weak or not able to do our job. So, I think our personalities are we take care of others and not ourselves,” explained Sheena Whittaker, MD, senior physician executive, Maine Coast Memorial Hospital.  

Dr. Whittaker joined with Robert Schlager, MD, vice president, senior physician executive, Sebasticook Valley Health, to present the topic of provider burnout at the summit. “I think we all have to pay special attention to not just what people say, but how they’re acting and how they interact because there can be subtle changes,” explained Dr. Schlager. He says providers are feeling the pressure of trying to maintain high productivity standards and patient experience standards while controlling costs. At the same time, they are also trying to adopt a new EHR system. “Changes are accelerating and change for many people produces stress and anxiety. When you can’t find a mechanism for handling that, that is when you go down that burnout road.”

Steven Berkowitz, MD, EMHS interim senior physician executive and president of the EMHS Medical Group, has spoken across the country about this very issue. He believes that forums like this are a good start to show providers that there is a place where they can talk about these issues and brainstorm solutions. He remembers as a young intern starting his career when two fellow interns committed suicide. The program director, a well-respected surgeon, gathered all the other interns together and told them that it appears, “They didn’t have what it takes.” 

“Two things about that bothered me,” Dr. Berkowitz said, “One—that he said that; two—we all believed it.” Dr. Berkowitz is hoping that talking about burnout at the summit will be a good first step to develop an action plan that will help address this important issue. “First of all, we have to acknowledge it’s a problem; second, we have to create a culture to talk about it; and then thirdly, we have to have some concrete plans of how to improve the work environment, the work-life balance, and the general efficiencies of our practice so that we can have a medical group that is healthier and more engaged.”

Of course, burnout isn’t reserved for providers alone—all employees are vulnerable to these same feelings. Sheila Thibodeau LCSW, CCS, SAP qualified, is the director of operations for EMHS’ Workforce Performance Solutions which delivers our employee assistance program. “Burnout is certainly a timely topic and one in which we deal with frequently,” she said, “We have several resources available and are readily available to talk with supervisors or employees who may be struggling, who may not know quite how to have a conversation with their supervisor or are not comfortable talking with their supervisor.”

Several recommendations from providers came out of the provider summit that can help all employees which included the creation of peer support groups, flexible scheduling, improving workflows, and more leadership engagement. Medical Group leadership is compiling the information they received that day and will be developing an action plan in the coming months.

For more information on workplace burnout or to receive free, confidential help from our employee assistance program about all issues from family life to health, financial, and legal problems, call anytime at 1-800-769-9819 or visit their website at