Tri-organizational Workgroup Established to Inform the Design of Interventions to Reduce Burnout and Promote Professional Fulfillment Among U.S. Physiatrists

Members & Publications


May 12, 2021

Physician burnout and its corollary, physician wellness, is a major challenge for physiatrists across all practice areas and settings. Physiatric leaders are aware of the data that demonstrates our specialty has one of the highest rates of burnout, dissatisfaction, and unhappiness.

Burnout in medicine is commonly defined by the following three criteria:

  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Depersonalization (cynicism or callousness)
  • Loss of personal accomplishment (lack of work fulfillment)

These combined detrimental effects raise serious alarms relating to individual physician health and well-being; specialty cohesiveness including recruitment, retention and reputation; as well as organizational  growth potential.

New Collaborative Research Study
The aggregate PM&R responses from prior research do not drill down into the specialty enough to assist in identifying actionable interventions. Therefore, to gain further insight into the causes of burnout in physiatrists, the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AAPM&R), the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (ABPMR), and the Association of Academic Physiatrists (AAP) have entered into a collaborative project to address these issues. The tri-organizational effort will initiate and fund a research project—designed and conducted by the Stanford Medicine WellMD Center—to identify both cross-cutting issues as well as PM&R-specific drivers of burnout that can be translated into actionable and impactful interventions by the partnering organizations.

“Representing the three major physiatry organizations in the United States, this workgroup seeks to gain knowledge and insight in order to offer physiatrists strategies to minimize the effects of burnout and enhance wellness, no matter what subspecialty, geographic location, or type of professional environment in which physiatrists work. These strategies must be more than just recommendations to reduce stress and ‘optimize’ personal work-life balance,” said Stuart M. Weinstein, MD, AAPM&R President.

“I cannot think of a more important issue for the tri-organizations to tackle. Burnout is a tragedy that impacts physicians in a wide range of professional settings throughout their professional life-cycle. We all want to ‘do something.’ Working collaboratively, that something can be thoughtful, data-driven and effective,” said James T. McDeavitt, Chair, ABPMR Board of Directors.

“The Association of Academic Physiatrists (AAP) could not be more eager to partner with ABPMR, AAPM&R, and Stanford WellMD Center on this crucial project,” shared Gwendolyn Sowa, MD, PhD, President of the AAP’s Board of Trustees. “The impact of burnout in physiatry has been well documented, and it is important for our field to quickly and substantially reverse this alarming trend. The AAP strives to be an ally and support system in issues where members need us most, and well-being and career satisfaction are essential. This study is the first of many actionable steps to come in addressing burnout in a collaborative, coordinated, and consistent manner.”

The primary goals of this project are to determine variability in the experience of burnout in different physical medicine and rehabilitation subspecialties and the factors that contribute to burnout at both the individual and system level, as well as to identify and inform development of interventions to reduce burnout and improve professional fulfillment among physiatrists.

Such interventions could include centrally-provided resources that enable physiatrists to pursue self-assessment and develop individual approaches and skills to promote well-being, as well as efforts to catalyze organization-level efforts and guidance for local actions by organizations and practices to help optimize the environment. They may also involve utilization of society-provided activities to equip physicians with content knowledge and insights into improvement methodology to drive progress in these domains, as well as creating offerings that help individuals identify and develop new approaches to cultivate professional fulfillment and improve well-being.

The study will employ qualitative interviews, focus groups, surveys and data analysis to inform the design, development and evaluation of interventions by AAPM&R, ABPMR and AAP to mitigate burnout and promote professional fulfillment.

Three Aims
This multi-phased research project will have three aims:

  • Define the variability in the experience of occupational burnout among physiatrists and how the factors that contribute to it vary by practice setting and sub-discipline.
  • Identify actionable domains at the individual, practice, and professional society level to reduce burnout and improve professional fulfillment among physiatrists.
  • Identify the modifiable individual characteristics and behaviors of physiatrists who have high professional fulfillment.

A project workgroup—comprised of up to two member representatives from each partnering organization, as well as the executive directors from each organization—has been established to address administrative issues, research and potential uses of information from the research initiative.

The workgroup includes:

  • DJ Kennedy, MD; Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC)
  • Sabrina Paganoni, MD; Spaulding Rehabilitation Network/Harvard Medical School
  • Dani Perret, MD; University of California, Irvine  
  • Jim Sliwa, DO; Shirley Ryan AbilityLab
  • Stuart Weinstein, MD;  University of Washington
  • Carolyn Kinney, MD; ABPMR Executive Director
  • Tiffany Knowlton; AAP Executive Director
  • Tom Stautzenbach; AAPM&R Executive Director and CEO 

Watch for updates on this important research study in your association’s communications.

Originally published in the May issue of The Physiatrist.

Legislation Introduced to Alleviate Impact of Conversion Factor Cut for 2021

Nov 09, 2020

Last month, two bills were introduced in the House proposing solutions to the estimated 10.6% Physician Fee Schedule conversion factor cut expected to go into effect January 1, 2021.  The bills offer some relief to the cut, but do not reflect a comprehensive or long-term solution.  AAPM&R has therefore chosen to remain neutral regarding these bills. 

Your Academy continues to advocate for a permanent solution to the conversion factor cut while maintaining the important payment increases to office and outpatient evaluation and management services.