Healthcare Worker Burnout

by Premier Medical Staffing Services on April 15, 2020 in Career Development


Healthcare facilities across the nation are under an increasing amount of pressure to do more with less. From a healthcare staffing shortage to increasing patient volumes, the strain on available resources is becoming increasingly more palpable.

Nowhere is this resource strain more strongly felt than among the nurses, doctors and technicians that make treatment and patient care possible. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, between now and 2026, an additional 203,700 new registered nurses will be needed annually to fill newly created positions and replace retiring clinicians. Additionally, the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts that the United States will experience a shortage of up to nearly 122,000 physicians by 2032 as demand for care outpaces new medical college graduates.

While many institutions are taking great strides to help fill these workforce gaps, healthcare facilities are being forced to rely upon their current clinicians to make up the difference in the interim. Consequently, healthcare practitioners of all kinds are managing larger than normal caseloads, consistently working mandatory overtime and are struggling to combat the effects of healthcare worker burnout.

What is healthcare worker burnout?

Much like caregiver burnout, healthcare worker burnout is a state of mental, emotional and/or physical exhaustion that occurs when a clinician becomes overwhelmed with the demands of their job. In addition to neglecting their own personal needs, clinicians grappling with healthcare worker burnout become less sensitive to the needs of their patients, resulting in compromised care quality and patient safety. Emotional exhaustion and a lack of feeling accomplished, either personally or professionally, are also hallmarks of this occupational phenomenon.

According to a report published by the National Academy of Medicine in October 2019, as many as half of the nation’s doctors and nurses are experiencing symptoms of burnout. Given this sobering statistic, it is imperative that clinicians be watchful for signs and symptoms in themselves and others.

What are the signs and symptoms?

While each clinician’s experience with this malady will be unique, the following list is illustrative of the signs and symptoms most frequently associated with healthcare worker burnout:

  • Depression and/or anxiety;
  • Easily angered or irritated;
  • Loss of interest in activities and relationships previously enjoyed;
  • Increased forgetfulness, especially around routine matters;
  • Compulsive thoughts and/or conversations about work;
  • Increased detachment from patients and their outcomes;
  • Persistent general fatigue;
  • Frequent headaches, stomach aches, bodily pains or other physical ailments;
  • Weight fluctuations (either gaining or losing substantial amounts over a short period of time);
  • Increased alcohol and/or substance use, including prescription medication; and
  • Poor professional performance

How can healthcare worker burnout be treated or prevented?

Failing to address the signs and symptoms of healthcare worker burnout can have dire consequences for the affected clinician, their patients and the healthcare facility that they work for. However, healthcare worker burnout is not a terminal diagnosis. While there is no one-size-fits all solution, the following suggestions can go a long way in safeguarding a healthcare professional’s mental well being.

Talk to Your Boss

Even if a clinician is not 100% certain that they are dealing with healthcare worker burnout, they should make an appointment to privately speak with their boss or supervisor. Management cannot fix problems that they are unaware of. An honest conversation about needs and pain points could result in the temporary or permanent reallocation of duties, helping reduce a clinician’s overall stress levels. Additionally, supervisors may be able to offer insightful ways to approach reoccurring issues, giving the clinician healthy, new coping mechanisms.

Key Suggestions & Takeaways

  • Make an appointment to talk with your boss or supervisor.
  • Share your concerns about healthcare worker burnout.
  • Be open to the changes and suggestions that are discussed.

Take Breaks

When the days are long and the caseload is large, it is easy to become convinced that skipping breaks or rest periods will allow for more work to be accomplished. However, the reverse is actually true. Employees that take breaks experience higher levels of productivity, energy and focus, especially when compared to their counterparts that do not. Whether its five minutes or an hour, clinicians can benefit from stepping away from it all and taking the time to practice self-care. For instance, going for a walk, listening to a podcast, unhurriedly eating a meal, etc. are all great ways to rest and recharge.

Key Suggestions & Takeaways

  • Clinicians that take breaks are more productive and focused.
  • Do not forgo your scheduled breaks or rest periods.
  • Plan to spend your break time practicing a form of self-care.

Adopt Healthy Habits

A balanced diet and regular exercise routine are most frequently the first things sacrificed when a person experiences increased levels of stress. While it is tempting to think that a few extra snacks and a couple missed workouts won’t hurt anything, the truth is that forgoing these two staples can rob a clinician of important psychological and physiological benefits. A balanced diet rich in vitamins, minerals and essential nutrients can decrease the risk of mental health problems (like depression). Additionally, regular exercise improves overall energy levels and releases endorphins, the feel-good chemicals.

Key Suggestions & Takeaways

  • A balanced diet and exercise provide psychological and physiological benefits.
  • Good nutrition can decrease the likelihood of mental health problems.
  • Regular exercise improves energy levels and releases endorphins.

Practice Boundaries

Establishing and abiding by personal boundaries at work is an extremely effective way for clinicians to safeguard against healthcare worker burnout. As natural caregivers, many healthcare professionals struggle with saying “no” to the virtually endless opportunities they have to give and contribute. While working extra shifts and accepting additional responsibilities is part of being a good team player, it is important that healthcare workers determine a safe and reasonable standard for how much extra they can give. Establishing boundaries will help ensure that clinicians have the time, space and energy they need to take care of themselves.

Key Suggestions & Takeaways

  • Personal boundaries can help clinicians prevent healthcare worker burnout.
  • Establish a reasonable standard for working extra shifts or accepting additional responsibilities.
  • Practicing saying “no” when your threshold has been met.

Stay Connected with Family and Friends

Friends and family play a vital role in reminding clinicians about the life that exists outside of the healthcare world. After working long shifts for days- or weeks-on-end, it is easy to become consumed with the to-do list that there was previously no time for. However, spending time with loved ones or those that share similar interests and passions has been shown to increase cognitive function, decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation, lessen the impact of grief and trauma and improve the body’s immune response. In essence, spending time with family and friends is a terrific defense against healthcare worker burnout.

Key Suggestions & Takeaways

  • Family and friends play an important role in preventing burnout.
  • Spending time with those you enjoy provides a multitude of mental and physical benefits.
  • Use your time away from work to connect with people in your life.

Consider a Change

While definitely not the first line of defense when combating the effects of healthcare worker burnout, clinicians can sometimes benefit from changing their scenery. Whether its working on a different shift, transferring to another unit within the facility or accepting a new position elsewhere, the change in routine can be extremely beneficial. Clinicians ready to make a change in employment have a wealth of resources at their disposal to ensure that the transition is successful. For instance, healthcare staffing agencies, like Premier Medical Staffing Services, have a depth of knowledge and resources that can be used to match a clinician with the right position for them.

Key Suggestions & Takeaways

  • Clinicians with burnout can sometimes benefit from a change of scenery.
  • Working a different shift, transferring to another unit or a new position are all options.
  • There are a wealth of resources available to ensure a successful transition.

Talk with a Professional

Clinicians that continue to experience consistent symptoms of healthcare worker burnout should consider making an appointment to talk with their primary care physician or a mental health professional. It is entirely possible that a more serious psychological or physiological issue is the cause of the symptoms that are occurring. Additionally, there are a wealth of behavioral modification and medication therapies that can be used to restore a healthcare worker’s mental well being. As fellow healthcare professionals, these providers will have a solid understanding of what is occurring and what the best course of action is. There is no need to struggle alone.

Key Suggestions & Takeaways

  • Primary care physicians and mental health professionals are a terrific resource for addressing healthcare worker burnout.
  • There are a multitude of medications and behavioral modification therapies that can help.
  • There is no need to try and fix this alone.

Healthcare worker burnout occurs when a clinician becomes overwhelmed with the stress and demands of their job. As a result, healthcare professionals dealing with burnout experience a decline in their mental, emotional and physical health. Since healthcare worker burnout can have serious implications for the clinician, their patients and the facility that they work for, it is important that practitioners do their best to treat and prevent the signs and symptoms. Through the use of a variety of available resources and tips, clinicians can maintain and protect their mental well being, ensuring their success and longevity in the healthcare field.

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