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Stanford Medicine becomes the first U.S. academic medical center to hire chief physician wellness officer

Tait Shanafelt, MD, a nationally recognized expert in physician wellness, will join Stanford Medicine as its first chief wellness officer, effective Sept. 1, leading the medical center’s pioneering program in the field.

His appointment makes Stanford the first academic medical center in the country to create a position of chief wellness officer at a time when physician burnout nationally has reached an all-time high. Shanafelt, whose clinical work and research focus on the treatment of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, will direct the WellMD Center at Stanford Medicine and serve as associate dean of the School of Medicine.

He comes from the Mayo Clinic, where he led a successful initiative to counter burnout and improve physicians’ sense of fulfillment and well-being. Shanafelt has led the way in the field. Since 2008, he has overseen multiple national surveys that included more than 30,000 U.S. physicians and about 9,000 U.S. workers in other fields. These found increasing rates of burnout among doctors; in 2014, more than half of those surveyed were suffering from emotional exhaustion, loss of meaning in work or a sense of ineffectiveness and a lack of engagement with patients. Moreover, his studies have found that as physicians suffer, so do patients: Burnout has been found to contribute to physician errors, higher mortality among hospitalized patients and less compassionate care. It is a trend, he said, that is “eroding the soul of medicine.”

In addition to his work in physician well-being, Shanafelt is an international expert in the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. He is directing multiple clinical trials testing new treatments for this disease, is the principal investigator for several grants from the National Institutes of Health and is a member of the Leukemia Steering Committee of the National Cancer Institute. He said he plans to continue his work on leukemia at Stanford, devoting about 30 percent of his time to clinical research and the care of patients with the disease.

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