The Next Epidemic: Burnout in Healthcare

Over the last few years, we have been watching the consequences and changes that have come due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We have seen political unrest, employment issues, lack of supply, businesses folding and so much more. These have all been alarming, but there is one issue that has arisen that deserves some attention. That issue is healthcare burnout. Our physicians and other healthcare providers are leaving the industry at an alarming rate. According to, a recent study found that “31% of clinicians globally, and 47% of U.S. healthcare workers, plan to leave their current role within the next two to three years.” What is the cause of this mass exodus? There are many things leading to this, but healthcare burnout is the best way to sum it up. Let’s dive in. 

What is Healthcare Burnout?

Burnout in the healthcare industry is when the negative consequences outweigh the positive aspects of a position, causing employees to seek a career change. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, “Burnout is a long-term stress reaction marked by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a lack of sense of personal accomplishment.” There are several issues in healthcare that are causing burnout rates. It is important to understand what they are so that we as a society can address them. 

Causes of Healthcare Burnout

Our Current Cultural Environment 

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic marked a significant change in the political and societal environment of our country. Political leaders used the pandemic as an opportunity to push their political agendas onto the public. Unfortunately, since science was not strictly adhered to when relaying information about the pandemic, our country became much more divided than it ever has. There is so much misinformation being spread and medical workers have been painted as the bad guy, puppets of a controlling government. 

Pressure on Healthcare Workers

The demands on our healthcare workers also became extremely unrealistic. Stories were being told of “heroic healthcare workers” setting unrealistic expectations of what our hard-working healthcare employees could do with their resources. This has led to much higher levels of stress and anxiety in the workplace. According to Mental Health America, “93% of health care workers were experiencing stress, 86% reported experiencing anxiety, 77% reported frustration, 76% reported exhaustion and burnout, and 75% said they were overwhelmed.”

Staffing Shortages

During the pandemic, healthcare workers were leaving their positions left and right. The demands on them just became too much. Unfortunately, as the need for care rose and the number of workers declined, those left in the industry were faced with increased workloads and shifts. They became overworked with extra shifts becoming mandatory. This will put anyone on the fast track to burnout. The shortages are only predicted to get worse in the coming years, as the demands on our healthcare increase in the coming years due to population growth and aging. 

Work Conditions

There are several issues within the healthcare work environment that are very problematic. They are dealing with extremely chaotic environments with bare-bones support. They are being pressured to stick to strict time limits, when they feel they need more time to effectively help patients. They are not able to control the pace at which they work, and proper appreciation isn’t being shown. 

Moral Distress

It is difficult for healthcare workers to see so many suffer as they did during the pandemic. They had a hard time matching up their own moral need to help as many people as possible with their limited resources to do so. The University of Rochester defines moral distress as, “when an individual feels powerless to carry out the ethically appropriate action. In healthcare, this is being unable to provide high-quality care to patients.” Overwhelming hospitals, staffing shortages, lack of medications, and much more led to this feeling for many healthcare workers. This is a leading cause of mental difficulties among healthcare workers.

Consequences of Healthcare Burnout 

The U.S. Surgeon General recently released an advisory on addressing healthcare burnout. They point out that burnout in the healthcare industry affects everyone, not just the healthcare workers themselves. Let’s take a look at several consequences of healthcare burnout on healthcare workers, patients, and society as a whole.  

For Healthcare Workers

  • Increased risk of physical health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, insomnia, and heart disease
  • Increased risk of mental distress including anxiety and depression
  • Exhaustion from working too many hours and seeing and experiencing a high level of trauma

For Patients

  • Less time available to spend with healthcare providers due to overcrowding and staffing shortages
  • Lack of quality care due to burned-out employees
  • High wait times and delays in care
  • Increased risk for error in their healthcare

For Society

  • Lack of preparedness for future health crises
  • Declining trust in the healthcare providers
  • Worsening population health outcomes

How to Combat Healthcare Burnout

While this issue may seem overwhelming, there are ways we can try and combat the problem of healthcare burnout. We can take better care of our frontline and healthcare workers so that they can continue to provide quality care and thrive in their work environment. 

  1. Create a safe space for healthcare workers to seek appropriate care for their physical and mental health challenges, including safe access to paid sick leave

This is referring to the stigma that comes from accessing care that is already available to employees. There is a negative connotation to those that actually use their sick leave or mental health resources. This should be removed to create a safe space for workers. 

  1. Provide access to quality mental health and substance abuse support

Access to mental health and substance abuse support is currently very limited by insurance provided by employers. There needs to be a systematic overhaul of the requirements of employers as to what benefits they provide. 

  1. Organizations work to create a better work environment for all employees

Creating an inclusive environment as well as clear communication are two ways to create a better work environment for employees

  1. Invest in evidence-based ideas that will spread accurate and safe information to the public about public health issues. 

This is most helpful coming from a political level. Our leaders need to clearly articulate evidence-based information to the public. Politicizing our healthcare should no longer be acceptable. 

  1. Health Insurers can expand the time allowed to be spent with patients

Insurance providers are currently limiting the time providers can spend with each patient for specific services. Empowering healthcare providers by allowing them to determine how much patient care time they need, and letting them set their own work pace, will go a long way to keeping employees happy in healthcare. 

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  1. Show healthcare staff appreciation by sending encouraging e-cards or cards

It may seem simple, but everyone loves to feel appreciated. Take the time to tell someone that you appreciate the work they do. Send them a quick e-card to really drive the point home. 

We Can All Combat Healthcare Burnout

Healthcare burnout is a major problem in our society today, but there are ways that we can combat it. Everyone can be involved from loved ones to the government, healthcare employers, and the general public. We can all be advocates for change in our current healthcare system. Our healthcare workers have dedicated their lives to the health of our country. They deserve respect and the support of our institutions to empower them to provide the best care possible and to stay in the profession they once loved.