Burnout In Healthcare: Why It Happens And How To Avoid It
Healthcare professional burnout is both regularly talked about among the community and widely studied among academic institutions. Just last week, the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) released a survey which asked healthcare leaders if they felt burnt out at their job.
The results were predictable—45 percent of 1,746 respondents said they feel burnout, 28 percent said they felt “somewhat” burnt out and 27 percent reported no burnout.
Burnout is just as prevalent in the nursing realm, where unsafe staffing ratios, a projected nursing shortage and emotional hurdles create an environment of exhaustion. A quick search of “burnout” on nursing social media forums reveals numerous stories of personal struggles to stay motivated.
Addressing this issue is a major concern for industry leaders. Burnout has a measurable impact on quality of care, costs and safety in healthcare environments, according to a study from the National Academy of Sciences.
Travelers have the added challenge of being in a high-burnout profession while also dealing with life on the road, which can sometimes make them feel isolated from their family or peers.
But what are the factors that contribute to this, and how can healthcare professionals manage their burnout to avoid quitting?
Main factors that contribute to burnout
Studies looking at healthcare burnout have focused on a wide variety of factors, but several large studies have these three in common:
High-stress workplace environments
Working in healthcare means working in a constantly changing, fast-paced environment. Employees have to adapt to new policies and procedures on a daily basis. Healthcare documenting and treatment technology changes just as quickly.
Many healthcare professionals work in literal life-or-death situations where split-second decision making is crucial, so workplace stress is a major issue.
Lack of personal agency
How many times have you heard someone who works in healthcare say, “I wish I could just take care of my patients instead of dealing with…” or “I feel like my manager doesn’t even listen to what I have to say.”
That’s called depersonalization, which refers to the feeling of not being able to focus on providing quality care because of outside forces. Those factors can be a number of different issues like problems with management or even personal conflicts with patients.
Many professionals cite issues dealing with confusing or unnecessary documenting programs as a factor of this, although studies show that trend is fading away.
Dealing with sick or dying individuals on a daily basis can impose a heavy emotional toll on healthcare professionals.
Violent or aggressive patients can also cause stress, as workplace violence is a major concern in the healthcare industry. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, incidents of serious workplace violence were four times more common in healthcare than in the private industry on average.
Ways to avoid healthcare burnout
Recognize the signs of burnout early
The most dangerous thing you can do as a healthcare professional is ignoring when you feel stressed, overworked, undervalued or exhausted.
Knowing the factors of what causes burnout is the first step to addressing those issues. Taking mental breaks to figure out why you are feeling this way can help you identify possible solutions to the problem. You may not be able to take these breaks on the job, so take some time at home to reflect. Consciously avoid distracting activities like watching TV or scrolling through your phone.
Plan time for yourself
Even the most experienced healthcare worker knows there are some things you can’t control on the job. That’s why it’s important to regularly and intentionally plan your time off to focus on relaxation and recovery.
Planning for fun is especially important for travelers as any time off needs to be negotiated through your recruiter before accepting a position at a facility. Experienced travelers also typically take at least one to two months off for vacations, holidays or family time.
Talk it out
As mentioned by HCT Today contributing writer Natalie Newman, talking about your feelings and experiences with friends, family or professional counselors can help ease the emotional burden of working in healthcare.
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