How innovation can bring more joy to your work


There is a national epidemic of physician burnout, and endocrinologists are not immune to it, with 47% reporting significant burnout in a recent survey.1 As the incidence of physician burnout increases, so does the overall cost to the health system, both in quality of care and financially, and findings from a recent study suggested that patients are becoming aware of burnout among providers and are concerned about its impact on the quality of the care that they are receiving.2

Dr. Robert A. Gabbay

Burnout can be described as a form of extreme work-related stress manifesting as physical and/or emotional exhaustion that can generate a range of psychological ripple effects, such as depression, mood and anxiety disorders, a crippling sense of worthlessness, and a loss of sense of self. Anyone can be affected by burnout, but there seems to be a greater prevalence among women (50% vs 30% for men); younger doctors, especially residents; and providers of color.3,4

The fallout from burnout affects both our personal and professional lives. In our personal lives, it can translate into broken or strained relationships, alcohol and substance abuse, depression and mood or anxiety disorders, financial difficulties, and suicide (14% have reported thoughts of suicide; 1% have committed suicide). Juggling work and family can be overwhelming, and additional strains, such as caring for a parent or a sick family member, having a child, going through a divorce or a family bereavement, dealing with student debt, and pressure to achieve, can be cumulatively devastating for a hardworking provider.5

In the practice, we see burnout translate into an increase in the number of medical errors, diminished quality of care, lower patient satisfaction with care, decreased productivity and professional effort, dissatisfaction among staff, and an increase in physician turnover.6 Workplace-specific factors that can contribute to burnout include daily use of health information technology, especially the EHR; workplace inequities; pressures to keep abreast with changes in the specialty; and time management challenges and constraints that go along with the continual pressure to deliver better quality care, for less money, in less time.7

Our group wanted to devise innovative, practice-based strategies that would help our colleagues address the burnout crisis. We asked ourselves how – through new, innovative models of care – we could rediscover the joy in our work, and what the steppingstones of “meaningful work” would be. It seemed to us that working as a team and revisiting the care we deliver might be good starting points, and that, if we drilled down further, common themes to address burnout and find joy in work revolve around choice, camaraderie, equity, and cocreating solutions.

Evidence suggests that physicians who spend at least 20% of their professional effort focused on work they find most meaningful have a notably lower risk for burnout.8 Each 1% reduction below this threshold increases the risk of burnout, and there is a ceiling effect to the benefit at 20% – for example, spending 50% of your time in the most meaningful area is associated with similar rates of burnout as spending 20% on it.

So how do we to get to that meaningful threshold of 20%? You can begin with identifying your passion, making the business case, speaking to your boss, getting your colleagues’ buy-in, and even looking for grants and other funding if needed. We came up with five ways you might bring more joy to your work by adopting innovative models of diabetes care: the first – implementing a direct-to-patient telemedicine program – has been written by Michelle Griffith, MD, and is featured here. In coming articles, we will take a look at tackling the impediments of clinical inertia, coordinating care through use of a transfer summary, shifting to team-based care, how to use e-consultations to connect with primary care providers, and devising a business case for these and other innovations.


1. Kane L. National Physician Burnout, Depression & Suicide Report 2019. Medscape. Published online Jan 16, 2019.

2. American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. Press release. 2019 Jun 17.

3. Oakes K. Female family physicians come up short in burnout gender divide. Family Practice News. Published online November 27, 2017.

4. Dyrbye L. JAMA Network Open. 2019 Jul 26. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.7457.

5. Yank V et al. JAMA Intern Med. 2019 Jan 28. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.6411.

6 . Panagioti M et al. JAMA Intern Med. 2018;178(10):1317-31.

7. Gardner R et al. J Am Med Inform Assoc. doi: 10.1093/jamia/ocy145.

8. Shanafelt T et al. Am J Med Qual. 2017;32(5):563-5.

Dr. Gabbay is chief medical officer at Joslin Diabetes Center and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, both in Boston. This is the introduction to a series of articles based on presentations from the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society in March 2019. Dr. Gabbay reports being an adviser to Lark, Onduo, and HealthReveal. Write to him at

Next Article: