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Barbara Balik on Addressing Burnout and Finding Joy in Work

Both large and small causes of burnout need to be addressed, said Barbara Balik, EdD, MS, RN, co-founder of Aefina Partners and senior faculty at the Institute of Healthcare Improvement.


How are health systems, practices, and other organizations successfully addressing clinician burnout?

Right now we don’t have a big body of organizations that we can point to. We’re certainly scanning for those. We always want to see who’s doing it best. Some of the things that indicate that people are doing better is when they listen to individuals in the work environment and the care environment and asking them what matters to them, what’s important to them, what they do on a daily basis, and then identify what gets in the way of doing really good work. So, it’s asking: "what’s a good day?" And then, "what gets in the way of a good day?" And then addressing those things.

More often than not, there’s a few big things, and then there’s a few small things. I call them boulders and pebbles. The boulders are often related to electronic health records and the demand it puts on physicians and other clinicians and secondly workload or staffing. One of those issues is there enough time available to do the job I need to do. The pebbles are more what are those daily irritants. It may be flow, it may be how things are managed from hour to hour within a busy practice setting. It’s those types of things. So when people can address those things, maybe not fix them all magically overnight, no one’s expecting that, but making progress, you’re going to see some great outcomes.

What is Joy in Work and how is it aiming to prevent clinician burnout?

One of the definitions I like the best of Joy in Work is the feelings of success and fulfillment that comes from meaningful work. It’s not the smiley face, necessarily. It’s that feeling of success and fulfillment that I’ve been able to contribute somehow. And it’s different than simply saying we are going to get rid of burnout. Just as we talk about how health isn’t the absence of disease, Joy in Work is more than just the absence of burnout. It takes us to a better situation so that we can care for both ourselves and our communities better.

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