Healing our healers

Tait Shanafelt, MD, a pioneer in physician burnout research and prevention, has been named Stanford Medicine’s chief wellness officer, one of the first at a U.S. academic medical center.

Shanafelt comes from the Mayo Clinic, where he led an initiative to counter burnout and improve physician well-being.

His focus on physician wellness began in 2001 when he published a ground-breaking study that launched a national conversation about the problem and its impact on care. The burnout trend, Shanafelt says, is “eroding the soul of medicine.”

Thousands of doctors in surveys Shanafelt has overseen report that they are emotionally exhausted, have lost meaning in their work or don’t feel engaged with patients. The impact, his studies reveal, can be more doctor errors, higher hospital patient death rates and less compassionate care.

Shanafelt, who started Sept. 1, will direct Stanford’s WellMD Center, the core of its physician wellness program; will serve as associate dean of the medical school; and will continue clinical work and research on treatments for people with chronic lymphocytic leukemia.