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Meaningful Work Matters, but It’s Not the Whole Story

April 11, 2024

On March 18, 2024, many honored the first annual Health Workforce Well-being Day, sponsored by the National Academy of Medicine Clinician Well-being Collaborative. The intention was to "recognize the importance of protecting health workers’ well-being to sustain our health system and ensure quality patient care." While rates of burnout and fulfillment amongst pediatricians varies, it has been well established that a substantial number of pediatricians experience burnout and that well-being issues threaten our workforce and quality patient care.1-3 For pediatricians in academia, well-being and workforce issues may endanger our ability to meaningfully innovate pediatric healthcare through research, and the rigorous preparation of the pediatric workforce through teaching.4 Understanding the drivers of burnout and well-being may help to improve academic pediatrician well-being and ensure a sufficient and engaged workforce.

In the Hospital Pediatrics original research article titled “Meaningful Work, Career Fit, and Professional Well-being of Pediatric Academics in the U.S,” Dr. Slovin and colleagues describe the study results examining the relationship between career fit and well-being outcomes among a national sample of academic pediatricians (10.1542/hpeds.2022-007080). This study evolves our understanding of the meaningfulness of different types of academic work, as well as the relationship of time spent on that work with burnout, professional fulfillment, and intention to leave academic medicine.

They examined career fit in two categories:

  • Global career fit: cumulative total percentage time assigned to professional activities that individual faculty considered meaningful.
  • Activity-specific career fit: percentage time assigned to each individual meaningful professional activity related to one’s overall professional full-time equivalent (FTE).

Twenty-nine percent of pediatricians were identified with burnout, with only 41% professionally fulfilled, and 9% intending to leave academic medicine. Most found patient care and teaching as meaningful. Higher global career fit was positively correlated with higher professional fulfillment, and negatively correlated with burnout and intention to leave academic medicine. Interestingly, among pediatricians who found patient care meaningful, more time in patient care was associated with burnout and intention to leave academic medicine. For pediatricians who found administrative and leadership work as meaningful, time in these activities significantly decreased intention to leave academic medicine.

This study advances the way we study and understand career fit within academic medicine. The results provide additional evidence that meaningful work supports pediatrician well-being, while acknowledging the limitations of meaningful patient care time in protecting against burnout.5 We can use this study to inform future detailed questions that may guide help craft meaningful academic work portfolios, guide faculty in choosing academic career paths, and ensure that meaningful work occurs during designated FTE. For example, are pediatricians doing work they find meaningful within the allocated FTE, or are they being distracted or pulled out of the work by other tasks? Which aspects of the work allow pediatricians to derive meaning, and how do we ensure job descriptions and resources align with this goal? While connecting our time and energy to what is most meaningful is not the entire solution to burnout and attrition, it is a critical component to addressing well-being within the pediatric profession.


  1. Cull WL, Frintner MP, Starmer AJ, Leslie LK. Longitudinal Analyses of Pediatrician Burnout. Acad Pediatr. Apr 2019;19(3):256-262. doi:10.1016/j.acap.2018.11.006
  2. Tawfik DS, Profit J, Morgenthaler TI, et al. Physician Burnout, Well-being, and Work Unit Safety Grades in Relationship to Reported Medical Errors. Mayo Clin Proc. Nov 2018;93(11):1571-1580. doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2018.05.014
  3. Panagioti M, Geraghty K, Johnson J, et al. Association Between Physician Burnout and Patient Safety, Professionalism, and Patient Satisfaction: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. Oct 1 2018;178(10):1317-1331. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.3713
  4. Webber S, Babal JC, Shadman KA, Coller RJ, Moreno MA. Exploring Academic Pediatrician Perspectives of Factors Impacting Physician Well-Being. Acad Pediatr. Aug 2020;20(6):833-839. doi:10.1016/j.acap.2020.02.018
  5. Shanafelt TD. Enhancing meaning in work: a prescription for preventing physician burnout and promoting patient-centered care. JAMA. Sep 23 2009;302(12):1338-40. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.1385
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