Healthcare Worker Burnout Affects Everyone

by Dr. Kristen Ray

Most business owners and managers understand the importance of workplace wellness and how that affects productivity. But what happens when the healthcare workers providing care to the employees are not well? 

Recently, it seems as though the discussion about healthcare workers and the pandemic doesn’t occur without the mention of “burnout.” World Psychiatry defines burnout as “a psychological syndrome emerging as a prolonged response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job.” But what does this really mean for healthcare workers, their patients and our communities at large? And, most importantly, how do we (as healthcare workers) help ourselves, our colleagues and the healthcare system overcome these challenges so that we may continue to take care of our patients without sacrificing our own needs? 

To put the current status into perspective, the American Medical Association and Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis recently published a survey of 20,947 physicians and other workers (e.g., nurses, medical assistants, social workers, respiratory therapists, etc.) between May 28 and October 1, 2020, regarding the pandemic, stress, and burnout. They found that: 

  • 61% feared exposing themselves or their families to COVID-19,
  • 38% self-reported experiencing anxiety or depression, 
  • 43% suffered from work overload and 
  • 49% had burnout. 

More concerning is that stress scores were highest among women and Black and Latinx healthcare workers. 

Knowing the risks of burnout and mental health issues for healthcare workers, it’s important to know how to recognize the signs in yourself or a healthcare worker you know. One may be experiencing an overwhelming sense of exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job, and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.

Other signs and symptoms may include, but are not limited to, significant changes in appetite (increase or decrease), trouble falling and/or staying asleep, increase in using drugs or alcohol, loss of pleasure in doing things that used to be enjoyable, and feeling a sense of hopelessness or feeling down.

While it feels overwhelming to address the stress that is occurring due to the pandemic, it is possible for healthcare to prevent the onset of burnout and address active burnout. Here are some strategies, some of which are specific to healthcare workers and others that may be appropriate for everyone: 

  • Obtain social support by joining a peer support group.
  • Utilize relaxation strategies (mindfulness, meditation, yoga, deep breathing). 
  • Prioritize sleeping, eating nutritiously, and exercising. 
  • Seek counseling with mental health counselors who specialize in helping helpers. 

As the pandemic heads into its second year of destruction, it’s imperative that we support our healthcare workers and address the chronic stress that we’ve been experiencing. And, like the old saying goes, “If not now, when?”

Dr. Kristen Ray is vice president of wellness at Bayless Integrated Healthcare. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor, a Doctor of Behavioral Health and Board Certified in Tele-Mental Health.  


This article is part of the cover story section, which includes the main story:

Mental Health & the Workplace

And three accompanying articles:

Speak Your Mind

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