Prior to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) characterization of COVID-19 (aka Coronavirus) as a global pandemic on Wednesday, March 11th, the National Academy of Medicine had estimated that as many as half of the nation’s doctors and nurses were experiencing the symptoms of healthcare worker burnout. In the days and weeks that have since followed that landmark announcement, clinicians of all kinds have been called upon to give even more of themselves as they work to combat an enemy that is 1,000 times smaller than a grain of sand. Extended hours, additional precautionary measures and anxious patients attempting to decipher an endless stream of information are just a few of the new stressors that our country’s medical professionals take on each day as they report to work.
While no one would knowingly allow a COVID-19 infected clinician to treat patients without first having them take the necessary precautions for a full recovery, the truth is that many healthcare workers are silently suffering with a malady that can be detrimental to care quality and patient safety. Healthcare worker burnout is an occupational phenomenon that occurs when a clinician becomes overwhelmed with the demands of their job. Much like caregiver burnout, healthcare worker burnout results in a state of mental, emotional and/or physical exhaustion. Healthcare workers that find themselves grappling with this condition are more prone to episodes of anxiety and depression, feelings of anger and irritation and will likely experience a gamete of persistent physical ailments (i.e. headaches, stomach aches and other bodily pains). If left untreated, this condition can have serious implications for the affected clinician, their patients and the healthcare facility that they work for.
While there is no one-size fits all solution when it comes to addressing healthcare worker burnout, being able to correctly identify the signs and symptoms in one’s self and other clinicians can go a long way in mitigating the risks associated with this condition. Once identified, there are several proactive steps that the clinician can implement to treat and resolve this malady. For a more exhaustive review of what healthcare worker burnout is and how to effectively treat it, please read Recognizing and Treating Healthcare Worker Burnout.