Protecting Family Physicians from Burnout: Meaningful Patient-Physician Relationships Are "More than Just Medicine"

Angela R. Hiefner, Petra Constable, Kristin Ross, Dan Sepdham, Joe B. Ventimiglia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


PURPOSE: Meaning in work has been identified as an important factor promoting physician resilience against burnout. However, research has only minimally explored meaningful patient-physician relationships in relation to physician burnout, and has largely focused on patient perspectives. To address this knowledge gap, this study explored the elements of relationships with patients that physicians find meaningful, as well as physicians' perceptions of how those relationships influence experiences of burnout. METHODS: In this qualitative study, 20 family medicine physicians recruited via convenience and snowball sampling participated in semistructured interviews. The research team then engaged in an iterative process of thematic analysis. RESULTS: 5 main themes emerged in participants' descriptions of meaningful relationships with their patients: Patient-centered care, continuity, effective care, trust, and purpose and mission. Participants described meaningful relationships as situated within a professional mission to connect with patients and make a difference in their lives. Meaning in these relationships centered around a trusting therapeutic relationship formed through continuity, person-centered care, and effective care. Participants strongly felt that meaningful relationships with patients are protective against burnout. CONCLUSIONS: Though many burnout interventions have targeted change at the individual (physician) level, a growing amount of evidence points to the need for change at the health system level. The findings of this study suggest that system-level interventions aimed at enhancing and prioritizing physicians' experiences of continuity and connection with their patients may be particularly impactful in efforts to reduce and prevent burnout.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)716-723
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the American Board of Family Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2022


  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Family Medicine
  • Patient-Centered Care
  • Physicians
  • Primary Health Care
  • Qualitative Research
  • Workforce

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Family Practice


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