By Tammy McCausland
Renowned psychologist Christina Maslach, who created the Maslach Burnout Inventory, has remarked that even before the pandemic healthcare workers were at a higher risk for burnout. The pandemic has exacerbated the burnout problem as care providers and caretakers have struggled to keep pace.1 According a survey highlighted in a March 2022 HealthcareDive article, one-third of nurses plan to quit their jobs by the end of this year.2 Physician burnout increased from 42 percent in 2020 to 47 percent in 2021 according to the Medscape Physician Burnout & Depression Report 2022: Stress, Anxiety and Anger.3 The report notes that “Most physicians said that burnout permeates most aspects of their lives, with 54% indicating that the impact was strong to severe, including with their relationships.”3
Since the pandemic has worsened burnout and the coronavirus continues to stretch the country’s healthcare resources to their limits, how can healthcare leaders help their teams tackle burnout? We highlight several recent articles that offer suggestions.
In their article “5 Ways to Restore Depleted Health Care Workers,” Leonard L. Berry, Rana L. A. Awdish and Stephen J. Swensen highlight five strategies and give examples where they are being implemented in practice. The strategies include: make the most of extended teams, be a reliable advocate, lead with kindness, offer access to emotional support resources and allow time for what matters. Using their proposed multiprong approach, the authors write, “health care systems can mitigate their workers’ physical and emotional depletion, reduce burnout and turnover, and improve patient care. . . . Especially given the considerable personal sacrifices that their workers are making, health care systems have an obligation to take care of them.”4
In 2021, the American Medical Association published “5 solutions to help ease physicians’ COVID-19 burnout.” Sara Berg highlights five ways to help physicians: meet basic needs, streamline communications, allow for reflection and processing, make it OK to get help, and measure and share results.5 Having healthy food available was rated highly as a helpful intervention.5 Peer support has grown in popularity during the pandemic, so healthcare leaders can create opportunities for people to share experiences. Such initiatives may prove beneficial beyond the pandemic.5 It’s also helpful to make sure physicians and other healthcare staff know what mental health resources are available—an intranet page is one simple way to make such information widely available.
NurseJournal published “Top Tips From Nurses on Dealing With Burnout.” The author, Timon Kaple, offers five tips for preventing nurse burnout: develop strong interpersonal relationships, set boundaries between work and personal life, get enough sleep, care for your physical and mental health, and seek out regular therapy or assistant programs.6 Kaple notes that nurse burnout “disproportionately affects nurses working in oncology and emergency care roles.”6 The article provides links to helpful resources about preventing and coping with nurse burnout.
“People suffering from burnout might be more irritable, angry or frustrated than normal, and they might have an increased need for sleep or trouble getting restful sleep. Jaw clenching and teeth grinding are common signs, too,” according to a UNC Health Talk article “6 Tips for Healthcare Workers Facing Burnout.” Burnout can cause mistakes at work, depression, high blood pressure and substance abuse, to name but a few.7 The article offers six tips to help with burnout: engage in regular exercise and other restorative activities; spend time with friends and family; identify the things you can and can’t control at work; monitor your inner emotional energy barometer and know when you’re running on empty; look for warning signs of burnout and get professional help when needed; and protect your boundaries—and expect your employer to do the same. 7 The article also explores tackling burnout as an organization. Healthcare leaders should “model the healthy boundaries and behaviors that can help everyone in the workplace, and that includes being open about challenges and vulnerabilities.” 7
There is some overlap in the tips and strategies in the articles highlighted. While burnout remains a pervasive issue that requires urgent attention, it’s encouraging that the issue is being written about and that there are ways to alleviate the burden of burnout. We need to take good care of those who take care of us and those we love.
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