The Lamen

Burnout is plaguing about half of all U.S. health workers

A bar graph for the breast cancer rates among women of different ethnicities.

The post-pandemic era isn’t all that easy for healthcare professionals, with reports of burnout among workers growing increasingly serious.

Photo: Bing AI

Published on Nov 6, 2023

Burnout is more than just weariness that prevents you from delivering what your work desires. The “burnout syndrome” produces some defining symptoms in people: exhaustion increased negativism, and reduced efficiency. According to a new report published by the CDC, the healthcare profession is one of the most vulnerable to employee burnout.

The news: Researchers compared survey data between 2018 and 2022 in the United States — including self-reported mental health symptoms.

  • Of those surveyed, 46 percent of healthcare workers reported feeling burned out often or very often in 2022, up from 32 percent in 2018.
  • In addition, more than double reported harassment at work in 2022 than in 2018 — associated with about odds of anxiety (5X), burnout (5.83X), and depression (3.38X).
  • As a result, nearly half the workers surveyed in 2022 reported being somewhat or very likely to look for a new job.

Burnout in health care workers is described as a “ticking time bomb” that could “lead to poor health outcomes across the board, long waiting times for treatment, many preventable deaths, and potentially even health system collapse.”

Results from the CDC report are a representation of how the pandemic affected the health workforce — represented by worker mental health and efficiency before and after the pandemic’s peak.

  • At the epicenter of America’s coronavirus crisis, health workers who were initially adrenaline-fueled eventually succumbed to systemic shortfalls.
  • Health workers across the world were subjected to physical or verbal abuse and limped through long hours, putting them at a greater risk of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia, or suicide.
  • Projections also predict a worldwide shortage of health workforce — another major contributor to burnout.
  • Even before the pandemic, nearly one-third of nurses reported the intention of changing jobs due to burnout. During the pandemic, however, over 50 percent of nursing staff reported burnout, with nearly 41 percent intending to leave.

Meanwhile: Healthcare workers continue to face challenges in addressing and seeking care for burnout, including stigma and structural barriers. Physicians and other staff can seem divorced from the mental toll, which can cause such disproportionate access to mental health care.

In response, the CDC has launched a first-of-a-kind federal campaign that aims to improve workplace policies and practices to reduce burnout, normalize seeking help, and strengthen professional well-being.

Some critical steps in ensuring the well-being of healthcare workers, as outlined by STAT, include:

  • Better access to evidence-based psychiatric treatment, including paid sick leave and outreach to workers.
  • More protection and support for workers by health care leaders, prioritizing transparent, honest, bidirectional communication.
  • Unequivocal support for science-backed measures by political leaders, including vaccines and masking.

The campaign doesn’t just leave things to self-care and instead calls for organizational changes that establish new workflows and nurture an environment safe for seeking help.