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'Own It' Initiative Curbs Burnout and Increases Physician Engagement

Analysis  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   May 24, 2019

An emphasis on communication standards helps drive this cultural transformation program at a large health system.

A culture transformation initiative at Providence St. Joseph Health has boosted physician engagement and eased physician burnout.

Research indicates that nearly half of physicians nationwide are experiencing burnout symptoms, and a study published in October found burnout increases the odds of physician involvement in patient safety incidents, unprofessionalism, and lower patient satisfaction. Burnout has also been linked to negative financial effects at physician practices and other healthcare organizations.

Since 2015, Providence St. Joseph's Own It program has been transforming how staff members interact with patients and each other.

"Number One, we focus on why people came into healthcare and help them reconnect with their purpose in healthcare. We talk and have training modules that are about compassion, empathy, accountability, and service cycle," says Kevin Manemann, executive vice president and chief executive of physician enterprise at the Renton, Washington-based health system.

The main component of the Own It program is a four-hour training session that emphasizes compassion and organizational values paired with communication standards, role playing, and storytelling.

About 35 people attend the training sessions, which group participants at tables of six to eight people. Facilitators lead the training sessions, with assistance from a peer facilitator seated at each table. "There's a leader at each table—someone who has been through the program and knows how to facilitate dialogue," Manemann says.

The emphasis on core healthcare values builds resistance to physician burnout, he says. "From a burnout standpoint, Own It reconnects people with why they came into healthcare in the first place. It also brings a reconnection with the organization and our purpose."

The training includes an introduction to "sacred encounters" among staff members and patients. Sacred encounters are caring and courteous conversations that establish connections between staff members and their patients and colleagues. "It's about connecting people with their daily interactions with each other," Manemann says.

As part of sustainment efforts for the Own It initiative, staff members share Own It Moments such as sacred encounters during routine employee huddles on inpatient floors and in other health system departments.

Own It by the numbers

So far, 12,000 Providence St. Joseph staff members have attended Own It training sessions and the initiative appears to be having a positive impact.

  • In staff surveys conducted immediately after Own It training sessions, 90% of session participants say the training better prepared them to improve the patient experience and interact with one another in a more positive way.
  • In Press Ganey scores, physician engagement rose from the 58th percentile in 2016 to the 71st percentile in 2017.
  • Physician engagement is currently trending above the 75th percentile.
  • Patient satisfaction scores have improved in three metrics: overall physician communication, overall caregiver helpfulness, and overall caregiver courtesy and respect.

"It’s really about behavior and attitude. The more that we understand how we treat each other, and the more that has an impact on our enjoyment in the work that we do, it impacts the patients' experience with us," Manemann says.

G.R.E.A.T. declarations and actions

Communication skills are an essential ingredient of Own It's G.R.E.A.T. principles:

  • Greet: Introducing yourself by name and role, greeting others in a manner appropriate to the situation, and using welcoming facial expressions and speech
  • Respect: Saying please, thank you, and you are welcome; facing the person you are speaking with for heart-to-heart conversation; respecting diversity, safety, and confidentiality; and working in an ethical manner
  • Engage: Providing opportunities for questions and engagement, listening with empathy, and validating needs
  • Assist: Explaining what you are doing and why you are doing it with good intent, working in partnership with patients, and conducting collaborative decision-making
  • Transition: Describing next steps and care coordination, escorting patients if necessary, and providing authentic departing remarks

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders.


Physician burnout has reached epidemic proportions, with about half of clinicians experiencing burnout symptoms.

Providence St. Joseph Health's Own It initiative seeks to reconnect staff members with their professional and emotional commitments to healthcare.

Communication skills such as courteous greetings and respectful interactions are essential ingredients of Own It.

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