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Could innovation protect against workforce burnout? MUSC thinks so

Could innovation protect against workforce burnout? MUSC thinks so

Compliments of Beckers Hospital Review

A new solution for protecting against burnout and improving the work lives of medical professionals may be to encourage innovation and creation, according to one physician from the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

Stephen Kalhorn, MD, professor of neurosurgery at MUSC spoke to Becker's about the hospital's innovation project, how it has improved his work life and how it has the potential to create inventions that benefit both patients and medical professionals alike. 

Dr. Kalhorn's passion for innovation came while he was a resident. His chairman was also an innovator and together they would come up with ideas for inventions that would help patients and physicians. 

"He would tell us, the Book of Ecclesiastes says there's nothing new under the sun." 

While he believes that to be true, Dr. Kalhorn also argues that there are ways to get credit for being the first one to describe those ideas and then protect them, and that's what MUSC is helping their medical staff do.

MUSC formed the Zucker Institute of Applied Neurosciences (ZIAN) in 2012, which encourages physicians and medical staff to share and submit any ideas for innovations and inventions they may have. If there is any room to protect those ideas via intellectual property laws or to fulfill a commercial need, the center will help those staff do so. To date, the institute reviews around 60 inventions annually, has funded 11 technologies, issued 17 patents and got three inventions FDA approved.

Dr. Kalhorn told Becker's that he never would have thought he would get to create inventions while being a practicing physician. This opportunity to explore a creative side of science may also be an aid against burnout so many healthcare workers feel.

As is already well known that burnout is a major factor among healthcare professionals, with 29 percent of the hospital workforce considering leaving the field, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Dr. Kalhorn described how one patient compared physicians to scrambling ants:

"It's like we're ants on top of an ant hill that has just been kicked over. You're literally just running around, and ants can lift several magnitudes of their own strength, and they're just carrying these chunks of dirt around and viciously and ferociously trying to fend off the problems around them as well as rebuild the hill." 

The challenging requirements of the field make the job difficult, but it can be made more enjoyable through innovation and creativity.

"I think some people, especially those prone to burnout, often don't have different outlets in their lives to vent frustrations or to use a creative aspect of their mind and personality," he said. 

ZIAN's encouragement of innovation and creation offers a potential respite for tired medical professionals and gives them a chance to create solutions to their problems. It also gives the staff a sense of agency in an industry that can often feel increasingly bureaucratic and high pressure.

"You can draw something on a dry erase board or napkin and take a picture of it and then send it to the group [ZIAN] and they'll say, yes or no," Dr. Kalhorn told Becker's. The group, made up of biomedical engineers, a commercialization officer, an IP director then all work together to make the physician's idea work, testing it in 3D models and coming up with commercial strategies to bring it to market or submit patent applications.

Some of the innovations coming out of ZIAN include a blink reflexometer to detect concussions and a 3D printed titanium plate called Heal X, used to remove damaged vertebrae. Dr. Kalhorn himself came up with VayuClear, a suction de-clogging device that eliminates obstructions from surgical suction devices saving time and energy during long surgeries. 

"At the end of the day, the goal is to be able to help as many patients as we can in the least invasive way possible with as little as possible stress and strain on your own body.  So if there are ways to make it easier and better for both you and the patient, everyone wins."