Healthcare workers are burning out in alarming numbers. According to a study in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, more than 3 in 5 physicians reported at least one manifestation of burnout in 2021. According to the 2022 US. Surgeon General’s Advisory on Building a Thriving Health Workforce, “burnout is an occupational syndrome characterized by a high degree of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization (i.e. cynicism), and a low sense of personal accomplishment at work.” Although burnout has been exacerbated by the pandemic, it has been around even before Covid-19 and it’s affecting non-physician healthcare workers. In 2019 alone, between 35-54% of nurses reported symptoms of burnout, according to the National Academy of Medicine.
Below are several strategies that should be considered to mitigate this public health crisis.
Fostering A Culture Of Appreciation
According to a report in Vatornews, among clinicians that reported burnout, 69% of them reported not feeling valued. Healthcare workers- including but not limited to nurses, social workers, pharmacists, administrators, and physicians; have sacrificed so much including time with loved ones during the pandemic in order to care for the millions of Americans that have suffered from Covid-19. The fact that nearly 7 in 10 clinicians do not feel valued from the work they provide is nothing short of disturbing, and healthcare systems should work tirelessly to be strong advocates of their own employees. Building a culture of appreciation means ensuring healthcare employees get adequate paid time off with the ability to use their paid time off when requested. In addition, the federal government should consider offering student loan forgiveness programs to healthcare workers; as student loans make up the second largest source of consumer debt in the US, with those in healthcare facing high burdens. These strategies could go a long way in cultivating the appreciation and value healthcare workers deserve for their selfless work.
Establish Specific Leadership To Promote Wellness
Just as most healthcare organizations have executive roles like chief clinical officer, chief financial officer, and chief medical information officer; they should also consider hiring a chief wellness officer. The responsibilities of such a position have already been well-defined by an article in New England Journal of Medicine Catalyst; and include but are not limited to identifying stressors in the workplace, creating programs to support wellbeing, and addressing employees needs to combat burnout. Creating an executive position of Chief Wellness Officer will ensure that issues related to burnout will be taken seriously, and will also send a message to healthcare workers that their personal wellbeing is valued by their employer.
Normalize Asking For Help
According to a systematic review and meta-analysis of 38 scientific studies that was published in the International Journal of Nursing Studies, the pooled prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder among healthcare workers during the Covid-19 pandemic was reported at 49%, and that of depression 37%. As Dr. Vivek Murthy states in a New England Journal of Medicine article, “As gratifying as our work is, it can also be profoundly isolating, especially when we feel we can’t let our colleagues know if we’re not OK- a feeling that millions of health workers, including me, have had during our careers.” Healthcare institutions must normalize the notion of employees seeking help if they need it, without the stigma of being judged. This starts with leadership promoting and mandating the importance of mental health and well-being in their institutions and organizations. Hospitals and healthcare organizations should have mental health clinics in place as a needed resource to serve employees when care is needed.
Leveraging Short-term Personal Strategies
In addition to system-wide policies, personal strategies must also be implemented to mitigate burnout on an individual level. For example, evidence-based approaches such as one-one coaching, peer support groups, and the use of mindful-based interventions such as breath and body-based practices have been shown to be effective in combating burnout, according to an article in Psychology Today. These short-term strategies can be a powerful tool to deal with the stress and anxiety of the rigorous day to day workload that many healthcare workers face.
Healthcare worker burnout poses a serious threat to our country’s health and well-being. A reality none of us would like to experience is going to our local urgent care center only to realize it is understaffed with the appropriate healthcare personnel. When are we, as a society and country, going to take care of all the healthcare workers that so bravely took care of us during this devastating pandemic?