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  • Need: Assistance for Midwest rural physicians who are experiencing burnout due to heavy workload, lack of staff, limited resources, and stress related to the use of electronic medical records.
  • Intervention: Through a variety of methods, Avera LIGHT comes alongside of providers to prevent and treat physician burnout and support their physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
  • Results: Physicians who have been on the brink of quitting because of burnout have stayed on staff as a direct result of executive coaching through Avera LIGHT. The program has helped to build a culture of wellness where providers are encouraged to be proactive in reaching out for help.


Avera LIGHT Logo Avera Health Logo Across the nation, physician burnout has been one of the biggest threats to medical facilities. The percentage of physicians who have experienced burnout has continued to rise in the past decade, reaching 54% in 2015. Stress related to the use of electronic medical records (EMRs), an increased workload, and lack of staff can cause rural providers frustration. Those practicing in underserved areas often have more demanding call hour requirement and more limited resources and support compared to those in metropolitan areas. These and other reasons can lead to physician burnout and can negatively impact quality of care and patient satisfaction.

Avera Health, based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has created a program that identifies physician burnout, prevents, and treats it. Avera LIGHT is a voluntary and confidential program with courses specifically designed for the long-term well-being of physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners who are experiencing some form of burnout.

With 300 Avera medical facilities located across the Midwest, Avera LIGHT's program is offered to providers working in both urban and rural settings. The name of the program, LIGHT is an acronym for what the program teaches: Live, Improve, Grow, Heal, and Treat. Through courses and coaching, their mission is to offer a full spectrum of wellness services to help providers manage their busy and valued careers. The program provides stress management tools, encourages enjoyment of job, and helps providers implement practice changes and create a better work/life balance.

Avera LIGHT steps to reduce physician burnout

The program's leaders have consulted with other physician wellness programs, including the University of Ottawa, the Canadian Medical Association, Vanderbilt University, the Coalition for Physician Well-Being, and the Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Services offered

Avera LIGHT provides training and resources for physicians and advanced practice professionals in the following areas:

  • Causes of burnout
  • The power of vulnerability
  • How to help colleagues
  • Burnout tests to measure stress level

Avera LIGHT's sessions include opportunities that center around wellness topics:

  • A video series available to all employees
  • A book review of the book Stop Physician Burnout by Dr. Dike Drummond
  • Educational talks from Avera LIGHT Medical Director Justin Sharp and other guest speakers
  • Webinars
  • Assessments via their website
  • Continuing medical education (CME) courses
  • Retirement workshop series
  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) to assist physicians with personal and family problems, mental and emotional health, substance abuse, addictions, and financial or legal concerns
  • Other provider resources

The Avera LIGHT website offers a variety of resources that providers can access on their own time, including:

Other initiatives hosted by Avera LIGHT:

  • Women in Medicine Retreat - Offers specific support to women who work in the medical field.
  • Spouse Engagement Group - Provides support and resources for significant others and spouses of Avera providers.
  • Executive coaching - Individualized sessions focus on all aspects of well-being, including how to reduce hours at work, colleague communications, and dealing with parent guilt often brought on from long call hours. The program's confidential services are designed to help providers strategize ways to reach personal and career satisfaction.


While Avera LIGHT is still in the process of collecting data to measure improvements in physician burnout rates, below are some other areas of success:

  • Physicians who have been on the brink of quitting because of burnout have stayed on staff as a direct result of Avera LIGHT.
  • "Schwartz Rounds," a group meeting offered to the McKennan region over the lunch hour, has allowed all employees and providers in the hospital to meet together to discuss the emotional and social aspects of working in healthcare. Each meeting has consistently been attended by over 100 people.
  • Those who had experienced Avera LIGHT are paying it forward: 5 physicians, 2 NP's and 1 PA have become peer strategy coaches through the program.
  • After hearing about the success of the program, the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine has begun to teach on physician burnout as a part of their curriculum.

Avera served as a pilot site for AMA's burnout inventory. As such, they were involved in a survey, conducted in October of 2016, which was helpful for developing additional strategies for reducing burnout.

Avera was accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing education for physicians.

In 2017, Avera LIGHT was awarded the Catholic Healthcare Association Achievement Citation Award. Below is a video created by CHA about the program:

To read further about how Avera LIGHT is addressing physician burnout:


  • Initially, physicians were not asking for help in regards to burnout. Avera LIGHT created safe grounds for physicians to talk about burnout, keeping personal issues confidential while breaking down the walls of shame often associated with the subject.
  • The distance between Avera's headquarters in Sioux Falls and their rural clinics made it difficult to reach all of Avera's physicians with their services. Also, their more demanding work and call schedule made it hard for rural physicians to justify taking time off to attend workshops. Avera LIGHT is currently developing ways to bring their services to rural providers electronically through Avera's eCARE telemedicine system.
  • EMRs have been a leading cause of early retirement and physician burnout among Avera physicians. Avera LIGHT seeks to coach physicians on changing their attitude about EMRs, teaching them to overcome its hurdles and use it to aid their work instead of hinder it.


  1. Gather a group of physicians together to start brainstorming physician burnout solutions.
  2. Survey your facility's physicians to discover their biggest causes of stress so that your solutions are relevant to their immediate need.
  3. Put together a timeline of implementation. Have a deadline in place and delegate tasks.
  4. Teamwork is essential. Avoid taking on more than you can handle. Prioritize your time and start small, building on what has already proven successful.
  5. Attain an administrative champion for ongoing support of program and budget.

Contact Information

Mary Wolf, MS, LPC-MH, Avera LIGHT Program Director
Avera Medical Group
Avera Health

Behavioral health
Health screening
Nurse practitioners and other advanced practice registered nurses
Physician assistants
Recruitment and retention of health professionals

States served
Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota

Date added
January 4, 2016

Date updated or reviewed
March 26, 2018

Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.