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Success Story: Improving Physician Wellness at UCSF Via Physician Leadership Training

Based on an American Medical Association news article published October 22, 2019 and Sara Berg's interview with Sunita Mutha, MD, director of Healthforce Center at University of California-San Francisco.

Learn how a program with 6 fundamental elements is teaching practicing physicians the leadership skills to decrease burnout at their organizations.

What Was the Problem?

During a doctor's career, the road might become rocky as frustrations mount, especially for physicians who are in leadership roles. This can affect the well-being of the physicians they lead. A rigorous training program available at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) helps target this source of burnout by enhancing leadership skills.

There is a growing body of evidence showing the impact of organizational leadership on physician satisfaction and burnout. For example, a study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that leadership qualities of physician supervisors impact the well-being and satisfaction of individual doctors. Supervisors who scored high in various leadership dimensions—inspire their employees, recognize a job well done, provide helpful feedback and coaching—strongly correlated with burnout and satisfaction scores of physicians.

Developing the Intervention

Having led the California Health Care Foundation Leadership Program for nearly 10 years, Sunita Mutha, MD, aims to help physicians overcome leadership quandaries and enhance the way they lead, with implications for reducing burnout.

“The program helps clinicians be effective in leadership roles. It serves different needs for different people, including burnout at work and at home, and renewed sense of mission,” said Dr Mutha, adding that since its creation in 2000 there have been a lot of changes in the training curriculum including “increasing requests to talk about change and transition in practice.”

Each year, 32 highly qualified applicants are selected as fellows to participate in the rigorous, 2-year program while fully employed in leadership roles in a variety of organizational settings. The leadership program prepares physicians and other health professionals to lead health care organizations in California and around the nation. It also creates a network of strong and effective leaders who are focused on improving the health of patients in California.

As a highly interactive program, the fellows participate in a variety of activities during and after the program (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Six Fundamentals of the California Health Care Foundation Leadership Program


These in-person events focus on the skills and competencies that physicians need to effectively lead and advance in executive leadership positions. The sessions provide interactive, experiential lessons that allow clinician leaders to increase their knowledge and skills, explore challenges, and develop strong peer networks.

Intersession activity

Between seminars, fellows participate in a variety of activities to reinforce skills and gain new knowledge. Some of the assignments include readings, developing and implementing a capstone improvement project, and executive coaching.

Fellows are expected to devote 5 to 10 hours per week between sessions on program-related activities.

Peer groups

Participants are divided into teams composed of 5 or 6 fellows who meet monthly to learn, share, provide feedback, and support to each other throughout the fellowship.


Each fellow receives 5 hours of individual executive-development coaching. The executive coaches focus on how leadership skills, including communication, managing teams, and balancing priorities, influence physician burnout.

Organizational project

Each fellow receives skills and support to complete a leadership project at their home institution. The goal of the health improvement projects is to address meaningful challenges or opportunities in health care. For example, one participant focused on improving patient access time for urgent referrals to specialists while others have expanded palliative care services or developed organizational capacity for population-based care.

Alumni network

After graduating from the program, the physicians join an alumni network. Alumni meet twice a year and remain very active, seeking to improve health and health care delivery in California. They do this by learning, sharing resources, and collaborating across health care sectors as they continue their leadership development.

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