DENVER — When it comes to training hospital staff in TeamSTEPPS, physicians are notoriously the most difficult members to win over, said speakers on the third day of the National TeamSTEPPS conference.

“When we roll out TeamSTEPPS, some of the most asked questions are, ‘Where are the doctors? Why aren’t docs in the room?’ ” said John Nunes, chief medical officer of St. Charles Medical Group in Bend, Ore. This can spur resentment among other workers and make true teamwork difficult, he explained.

But in a world in which physicians have competed as individuals from the day they entered medical school, team dynamics may not come easy. Add to that the extraordinary responsibilities they face on the job, and it’s no wonder that doctors often believe that the safety of their patients is entirely in their hands, which makes the idea of handing over the reins a difficult proposition, Nunes said.

“Autonomy is what [physicians] hold most dear,” he explained.

Often, there is a need to create urgency to make physicians see that they must give up some control.

“Your physicians in the room may not see a problem. Teamwork is in the eye of the beholder," Nunes said. "What you have to do with physicians is create that burning platform because they don’t see it. They see the patient in front of them. They don’t think about community and they don’t think about population health.”

But once you can get physicians to make that switch, they can become some of the most collaborative and helpful staff in the entire hospital and eventually be your strongest ally.

“Six months later, the TeamSTEPPS was their idea,” Nunes joked. “A year later, they invented TeamSTEPPS.”

Andrew Grose, an orthopedic trauma surgeon at Westchester Medical Center, Poughkeepsie, N.Y,. and a TeamSTEPPS Master Trainer, said the duty to ignite that burning platform among physicians ultimately rests on hospital leadership.

“I shouldn’t be talking about how to engage physicians; that should be the C-suite’s job,” he said.

When taking on that engagement, it’s important to approach and speak to physicians “as professionals: collegial, very short, very simple conversations that are peer to peer,” Grose said.

In addition, the C-suite must first do a better job at taking care of them before trying to forge new relationships, he added. In a time when large numbers of doctors are reporting burnout, hospital leaders can’t build a culture of trust unless they are treating doctors the way they would patients, Grose said.

Nunes considered circling back to TeamSTEPPS as a way to help alleviate that burnout in the first place.

“We pay a personal price for the great work that we do, but we lower that price with teamwork,” he said.