Energize Your Medical Practice: Practical Strategies to Combat Burnout and Boost Medical Efficiency

Cydoc & Dr. Sarah Samaan

The Cydoc team is sitting down with physicians and physician coaches across the country to hear their stories. Cydoc helps with practice efficiency and alleviating burnout by generating medical notes from patient intake forms to save 10 minutes per visit. Today we're excited to feature Dr. Sarah Samaan, a retired cardiologist and a Master Certified Physician Development Coach.

Dr. Samaan is a 1988 Vanderbilt University School of Medicine graduate. She practiced cardiology for over 27 years and retired in 2022 with the intention of pursuing her other life passions, including studying the arts and competing in the equestrian sport of dressage. Dr. Samaan served as Chief of Medicine and Chief of Cardiology at busy hospitals in her community, and was a Physician Partner at the Heart Hospital Baylor Plano. She authored three nationally acclaimed books for the lay public, including most recently the DASH Diet for Dummies, now in its second edition. Dr. Samaan is currently enrolled as a full-time Bachelors of Fine Arts student and plans to pursue a masters degree in Fine Arts. She hopes to teach the humanities to medical students and others in healthcare. Dr. Samaan is also a registered yoga teacher.

Dr. Sarah Samaan

What motivated you to start Mindful Physician Coaching, and what services do you offer physicians?

As I was transitioning out of my medical practice, I realized that I really needed someone to help me clarify my goals and to work with me so that I could create an actionable step-by-step plan to launch into this next phase successfully. I worked with a Physician Coach, and found the experience even more helpful and meaningful than I had expected. 

Once I retired and found my bearings, I realized that with my long experience as a cardiologist and my work in mindfulness and the creative arts, coaching would be a perfect fit for me.

As a yoga teacher, I became certified in Mindfulness Coaching through the Yoga Alliance, and I also achieved certification in Time Management Coaching, but I knew that to become a physician coach, I needed more specialized training. That’s how I found the Physician Coaching Institute, where I completed their 6-month ICF-certified program.  

As a Physician Coach, I help physicians who are struggling with burnout and career dissatisfaction to develop attainable goals that align with their values, so that they can create a sustainable and happy work-life balance. I think of coaching as a partnership, walking side by side with my clients as they navigate through some of the most important decisions and changes of their lives. My coaching clients choose from a three month or a six month program, although we can always modify as needed. 

What are the biggest challenges you see physicians facing today?

By far burnout is the biggest challenge facing physicians today. Over 60 percent of physicians in 2021 reported at least one symptom of burnout, and satisfaction with work-life balance is at an all time low of 30 percent. 

One problem with burnout is that it is often mischaracterized as a mental health problem. But in fact the definition of burnout is a condition that results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. 

Physicians are being asked to see more patients in less time, spend hours of personal time on the growing EHR inbox, supervise more members of the healthcare team, and do it all for less money. Most physicians now work for corporations or healthcare systems, so they have little control over how their work life is structured. Putting the blame for burnout on the physician only serves to aggravate the problem. 

For these reasons, many physicians are searching for new opportunities either outside of medicine or tangential to medicine. Others are looking for different ways to practice that allow them more autonomy and control. 

The truth is that most physicians are passionate about being a doctor. And we all need highly skilled, highly motivated people taking care of us. So this is a problem that needs to be addressed from every possible angle. 

What are your favorite strategies for reducing burnout?

Since burnout is not the physician’s fault, it is frustrating that physicians have typically been tasked with addressing the problem. In many cases, healthcare systems are now becoming aware of their responsibility for helping to solve the problem. I am hopeful that over time, we will see systemic changes. 

However, when dealing with burnout, there are some important things that a physician can do to help make their life more fulfilling and less stressful.

First, address the EHR. This is a huge source of stress for many physicians. To get a handle on this, create templates and automations when appropriate, delegate certain tasks to nurses and medical assistants, and remember that the EHR is not email. If a patient question requires more than a brief and concise response, consider a telemedicine visit or office appointment. 

Speaking of the office visit, Cydoc looks like a fantastic tool that will help to streamline the process. I’m intrigued by its capability to create a clinically relevant document that can also make patient care more efficient and focused.

Second, rediscover a hobby or a passion outside of work. Just devoting 15 to 30 minutes a week can help you to reconnect with a more playful and creative side of yourself.

Third, exercise is critical to resilience and well-being, and so is a healthy diet. Don’t overlook your personal wellness.

Fourth, and most importantly, make time for your friends and family. Social media is fine, but there is nothing like an in-person human connection.

Fifth, learn to say no. This can be hard for physicians to do, but remember that there is only so much time in the day. By saying yes to one thing, you are in effect saying no to something else, whether you mean to or not. Be intentional with how you spend your precious time.

Finally, making time for a mindfulness practice, even just a few minutes per day, can help you to discover more ease and equanimity in your life. You may also notice that through mindful communication you are able to create more meaningful and respectful connections with your patients and staff. And it may help you to become more introspective, giving you insight into the next steps you need to take to find a more fulfilling way of life.

Are there any resources you’d recommend to physicians for optimizing the efficiency of their practices?

The American Medical Association is working hard to develop a program called Steps Forward. They recognize the importance of addressing burnout, time management, and EHR improvement, and have a number of resources on their website. 

Other organizations, like the American College of Cardiology, are also beginning to address these issues, so these are good places to look for additional resources.

Ideally, healthcare systems will take it upon themselves to create more efficient systems, but that currently varies widely, depending on the workplace.

Of course, everyone is different. Challenges faced by surgeons, for example, may differ from those faced by physicians in primary care. Working with a coach with expertise in time management is a great way to brainstorm and create systems that will work for your individual practice. 

What are your future plans for Mindful Physician Coaching?

I love working with my physician clients to help them rediscover their joy and to create a practice and a life that aligns with their personal values. Mindful Physician Coaching is open to new clients, and I offer a complimentary introductory meeting to those who are curious about coaching.

I also enjoy speaking to and consulting with physician groups and administrators about work-life balance and creativity in healthcare. As a cardiologist who is also a yoga teacher and a student of the arts, I bring a unique perspective to conversations around these common problems.

On my website, I have recently released a mini-course for physicians and others in healthcare that will help you to develop your own goals and round out the steps you need to take to bring your vision to life. I call it the Four Week Focus Shift Course. It is a self-paced course, and includes a number of self-coaching exercises that I have found to be enlightening and purposeful.

What “words of wisdom” would you want every physician to have the chance to hear?

“Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before”- Joseph Campbell

How can our readers reach out to you or follow you on social media?

I’m active on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarah-samaan-md/

You can find me on Instagram at @MindfulPhysicianYogi

Thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Samaan!

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