Recently I read a survey result published by athenahealth in July of 2016 and conducted through Epocrates, a mobile app for physicians. It revealed that only 20% of more than 2000 physicians met the criteria for engagement. Interestingly enough, two main criteria for physician engagement were leadership structure and ownership.

  1. Leadership structures: According to the survey, 32% of physicians were engaged in organizations that are physician-led compared to eight percent of physicians who were engaged in organizations that were not physician-led.
  2. When it comes to organizational ownership, 32 percent of respondents felt engaged in a physician-owned medical groups versus 17 percent and 14 percent for medical groups owned by health systems, and hospitals, respectively.

I must admit that I was surprised by this low number of engagement and here is why. I see a relative connection between work satisfaction and engagement. In other words, someone who is rather satisfied with their work automatically tends to be more engaged than someone who is not satisfied. And compared to other professions, physician satisfaction has always scored fairly high even though it has decreased over the last few years.

According to the 2016 Medscape Young Physician Compensation Report, depending on specialty, the overall career satisfaction is between 47% for Nephrology and 68% for Dermatology with the bulk of specialties in the mid to high 50’s.

Not only that, the 2015 Gallup poll that measured general employee engagement came to the conclusion that 32% of US workers were engaged in their jobs which means that physicians supposedly are less engaged in their work than the general population in their career. That rather surprised me.

Nonetheless, what I can agree on are the listed primary drivers for the lack of engagement. Having worked with physicians for so many years, I learned early on that the three following reasons were the main ones why so many physicians were either disengaged or decided to leave an organization.

Satisfaction with leadership

Only 74% of the engaged physicians were very satisfied with their leadership. Leadership is a very important criterion for physicians when it comes to their engagement and long-term employment. I talked with many physicians who told me that they left an organization because they were dissatisfied and frustrated with their immediate leaders. They may have had the degree or certification of a leadership program, but they didn’t have the mindset and the skills of a good leader. That is what many of the physicians in the survey voiced – they look for high-quality physician leaders who can communicate effectively and demonstrate a high level of expertise and leadership.

Trust between physicians and non-physician executives

Trust in the leadership and a belief that the organization acts with integrity and follows through on its commitments have a considerable impact on physician engagement. Unfortunately, there is a lot of mistrust and miscommunication happening between physicians and non-physician executives. Part of the reason is that they both speak different languages and look at healthcare from two perspectives. Add to that their inability to communicate effectively, and you will notice an environment filled with mistrust, division, and conflict. Physicians want transparency from the top down, and they want to ensure that their voices are heard and included in the strategic direction.

Intentional workplace design

A lot of physicians underestimate the importance of their workplace environment unless of course, it is completely out of control. However, the study has proven that physicians are almost four times more engaged when their workplace enables them to focus on what they consider their top priority – deliver high-quality care to patients. Workplace environment doesn’t only include the physical workspace but also the technology, support systems, and collegiality among peers and with supporting staff.

Fortunately, there are effective solutions to the three mentioned drivers and I focus on two in my program.

Personal leadership development

Too many healthcare providers and executives think that leadership is about business knowledge and clinical accomplishments. But they are truly just part of the package. Personal development, leadership behavior, and presence are the fundamental building blocks for any good leader. Knowing how to relate to others, coaching people to greater performance, being able to control their emotions in tense situations and conversations, and showing authenticity and vulnerability are skills that cannot easily be taught in a weekend program or by reading a book. However, they are absolutely crucial for leaders who want to get results.

Conversational Intelligence

In the survey, one of the most mentioned requirements was effective communication. Conversational Intelligence is what separates those who are successful from those who are not. When you really think about it, we all have been taught how to speak but unless we took a class on conscious communication or read a book on effective communication, nobody really was truly equipped to master it. In Conversational Intelligence we learn that conversations have the power to change the brain – they stimulate the production of hormones, stimulate body systems and nerve pathways, and change the body chemistry; not just for a moment but sometimes even for a lifetime. Unhealthy conversations are at the root of distrust, deceit, betrayal, and avoidance, healthy conversations foster trust, candor, collaboration and moves things forward. In this program, I share the tools to restore trust and build the foundation where powerful conversations happen intentionally.

If physician engagement is a priority in your organization and you would like to implement a program to increase it, I invite you to reach out to me.