Workload Survey 2022

Workload Survey 2022


Leonard Zwelling

On June 21, 2022, the results of an extensive workload survey of the faculty were presented to the entire Faculty Senate.

Recently, I have obtained a copy of these results and will try to summarize them here for they are both alarming and disturbing, particularly to an old faculty veteran who remembers good times at MD Anderson.

Once again, I have to aver that the source of these documents was neither my wife, Dr. Kleinerman, nor the leadership of the Faculty Senate, but rather from an anonymous faculty member.

Over 950 faculty members (N=953) responded and 805 were at the Assistant Professor level or higher. Almost 70% had clinical appointments and 63% were non-tenured. So, for the most part these were the clinical faculty who deliver patient care on a day-to-day basis. Interestingly enough, 40% of the respondents were either current senators or past senators, thus 60% have never served in the Faculty Senate.  Over half of those who responded have been faculty members for over 10 years.

When asked how much they work, almost 60% of the respondents answered between 40 and 60 hours a week, and almost 90% worked between 9 and 14 hours per day.

A critical question came next. How has morale changed in the past three years? On a 0 to five scale with 0 being greatly decreased and 5 being greatly increased, the data mean was 1.92. This was to the decreased morale side. Over 30% of the respondents had been bullied personally and 41% witnessed bullying. Only half of the respondents feel safe speaking openly or are comfortable asking for help. Job satisfaction hovered around 50% as did stress.  Most felt that their work was valued by their department leadership, but far less valued by the executive leadership. Only about 20% thought that the administration understood the problems encountered by the faculty. And, of course, the B word, burnout, came up with over half of the respondents feeling some emotional exhaustion and many expressing concern that their workload was adversely affecting their work-life balance. Only 12% enjoyed their work and had no symptoms of burnout.

Job satisfaction has decreased among 56% of the faculty who responded and over half have considered or interviewed for other jobs, while 14% had considered retirement. This degree of dissatisfaction with MD Anderson was unheard of 25 years ago. What’s going on?

Additional concerns were the impact institutional service and administrative duties had on academic credit with the prominent feeling that these duties should be counted toward promotion and tenure decisions.

Only 22% expressed confidence in the president and only 14% in his leadership team.

The picture gleaned from the survey results is of overworked faculty, fearful of expressing their concerns, and expressing little confidence in the executive leadership team. There is obviously a leadership vacuum as clinical loads increase, administrative burdens rise, and the amount of time spent on the electronic medical record grows. Other interesting data are that over half of the faculty do not get a lunchbreak during clinic and are often experiencing workflow interruptions.

And the research faculty are not immune. They too are suffering from too much administrative work, lower job satisfaction, and pressure to write more grants.

In summary, the survey results provide a picture of an overworked faculty with dropping enthusiasm for their work and major impositions to normal work-life balance.

What should the leadership do with these results?

First, they should take them seriously and understand them to be a reflection of a reasonable swath of the faculty.

Second, the leadership is viewed as out of touch. That will require active retail politics to fix. The leadership needs to walk the halls and feel the pain of the faculty in performing its job every day.

Third, the Faculty Senate should plan on re-canvasing in a year or so to see if things improve, but there is a clear gap between the executive leadership team and the rank- and-file faculty. The onus is on the executives to fix this—if they can.

What I glean from all of this is a major problem if the goal is to create the best cancer fighting team and the One MD Anderson goal of Dr. Pisters. It seems to me that the institution is about as far from a functioning team as the Houston Texans. Like the Texans, the solution starts with a change at the top.

This document shocked me. The degree of unhappiness is unequalled at Anderson since my arrival in 1984. Anderson used to be the place everyone wanted to come to and no one wanted to leave. Now, it’s another workplace filled with dissatisfaction, burnout, and disgruntled, scared faculty.

While the leadership team is busy collecting bogus business awards, the patient care and research teams are just trying to get through a day. That leadership team has taken its collective eye off the ball. As it covets accolades from afar, it fumbles the same ball close to home. Ownership needs to intervene.

4 thoughts on “Workload Survey 2022”

  1. Wow, stunning! During my 35-year career at MD Anderson, beginning in 1969, I never witnessed anything like that – until Dr. DePinho showed up. And we all know how that disastrous appointment played out.

    My own experience, starting 9 years before Dr. R. Lee Clark retired, was that it was an honor and privilege to work at MD Anderson. Dr. Clark was an acclaimed pioneer in the field of oncology and deeply respected by the Anderson faculty. He was one of a kind.

    Dr. LeMaistre was likewise deeply respected, indeed revered by many. A scholar and gentleman, he was probably the best administrator the cancer center has seen.

    Dr. Mendelsohn started off well. He exuded grace and charm, and brought excellent administrative, scientific, and clinical credentials to the table. He interacted extensively with faculty at both a group and individual level. I met with him frequently on a wide range of Senate business (salaries, grievances, etc.) and always found him thoughtful and constructive. He would even solicit my frank opinion on the performance of his VP’s! Never once did he fail to respond to Senate correspondence. I still cherish a few kind personal memos he sent me and also his gracious address at my retirement dinner. Unfortunately, and probably through no other fault than poor judgement, his reputation was marred by association with a couple of shady, nay crooked, outside organizations.

    Given that background, it’s depressing and alarming to witness the plunge in faculty morale that has occurred during the current and previous administrations. This cannot endure. Oppression and mismanagement flourish in the dark. It must be exposed by bright light. The Faculty Senate provided that light during the previous administration and the same must hold true now. It’s time to flip the switch and proceed with bold, unflinching, and united Senate action.

  2. Joel Dunnington MD

    Those are abysmal satisfaction numbers. That seems to be about as bad as when we had surveys under DePinho.
    I know a bunch of Radiology Faculty are very disillusioned.
    I agree with David’s statement above. I am willing to help if needed.

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