Nurses’ & Physicians’ Burnout Reaching New Highs: How Can We Tip the Scale?
The demands are growing and the endless lists of tasks getting longer — leaving many feeling drained and completely deprived of energy. While burnout that stems from work can affect many professions, nurses’ burnout has reached historic highs, with a similarly grim outlook plaguing the rest of the healthcare field.
As essential professionals, nurses, clinicians, and other medical staff live on the frontlines, serving and treating patients beyond their own needs.
From long hours to tight schedules, staffing shortages, physical demands, and administrative burdens, the healthcare field can be a rewarding, yet challenging career choice.
But why is it that nurses’ burnout is so common and why do physicians and other medical personnel consistently feel their mental health decline?
According to a survey done by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) and Washington Post that assessed the mental health status of frontline healthcare workers, a profound 55% of staff reported feeling burnt out from significant stress at work.¹
This eye-opening statistic gives insight into the severity of everyday stressors leading to burnout from work and helps shed light on the role the Covid-19 pandemic played in this context — exacerbating conditions in hospitals and other patient care facilities.
Let’s dissect this growing issue and understand the factors leading to poor mental health among healthcare workers and the triggers of nurses’ burnout.
Nurses’ Burnout: Understanding the Issue
While not a medical diagnosis per se, burnout syndrome is a poor state of mental health that develops as a result of experiencing excessive stress at work. Causing complete physical and mental exhaustion, sadly burnout among nurses and other healthcare staff is at an all-time high.
According to research done to investigate nurses’ burnout, a shocking 95% of nurses indicated having felt burnt out in the past three years (since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic) — making it an unsettling 62% increase since 2019.²
Statistics like these don’t just emphasize the poor mental health nurses and clinicians experience. Mental health concerns cause further ripple effects, leading to healthcare workers seeking other career opportunities in an attempt to find a more suitable work-life balance.
In 2021 alone, about a third of all nurses left their profession behind and 27% of those who quit their jobs said to be burnt out from their careers as nurses.²
Symptoms of Burnout: How to Spot It?
The term “burnout” was first introduced by German-American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, who defined it as a state of both mental and physical exhaustion that stems from work-related stressors. Burnout from work thus became more widely acknowledged as a consequence of chronic work stress draining our mental health.
Burnout comes in many shapes and sizes and its symptoms are many. Usually, the symptoms of burnout are tied to underlying conditions, like depressive disorders that take a toll on our mental health and slowly begin to limit our physical capabilities.
Some of the most prominent burnout symptoms are:
- Fatigue: feeling tired all the time
- Depression & low mood: feeling hopeless and sad
- Trouble sleeping: unable to stay asleep at night or having trouble falling asleep in the first place
- Unable to concentrate: unable to focus on tasks
- Lack of energy: feeling drained and unable to complete household chores and assignments at work
- Unexplained GI issues and headaches: displaying headaches or changes in bowel movement that are not tied to other medical diagnoses
- Low self-worth: not feeling worthy or accomplished
- Poor immunity: getting sick frequently
- Loss of interest in activities: losing the desire to pursue hobbies, mingle in social settings, or do other fun activities.
With the healthcare field being a particularly demanding career choice, it comes as no surprise that nurses’ burnout and the mental health of physicians and other medical staff have taken a nosedive in recent years. Let’s find out why.
Burnout in Healthcare: Why It’s So Common
With a highly complex healthcare system, increasing physical demands, and countless administrative challenges, the mental health of nurses, clinical personnel, and other healthcare workers continues to take a hit as job satisfaction diminishes.
And let’s not forget the overwhelming amount of tasks on their ever-growing to-do list besides seeing and interacting with patients: regulatory requirements, documentation tasks, bureaucratic duties, and countless hours trying to find and then work with hundreds of pages of clinical documentation to simply locate essential clinical data.
…and then there’s the lack of time to actually check off these tasks, no matter how many hours you put in or how much you hustle. It’s extremely frustrating for all clinical staff involved, which has led many to speak of a burnout “crisis” in healthcare as the stress and overwhelm continue to increase.
Here are three of the most profound challenges that lead to nurses’ and physicians’ burnout and significantly impact their mental and physical well-being.
Physical Demands of the Job
One of the many factors adding to the dire situation of nurses’ burnout is the challenging physical demands this profession entails. From standing long hours to constantly being on the go, moving, lifting, and assisting patients, being in healthcare means keeping busy.
In addition, jobs in hospitals, nursing homes, and other in-patient care facilities offer only shift work — meaning no rest for 24-hour stretches, excessive stress for extended periods of time, and a wacky circadian rhythm — all taking a toll on the mental and physical health of healthcare staff.
Administrative Burdens & Regulatory Requirements
While physicians, nurses, and other healthcare workers primarily engage with patients, regulatory specifications and countless administrative and bureaucratic functions exert additional pressure — causing more stress and pushing individuals to burn out from work.
Physicians and their clinical staff are now expected to see patients and tackle the ever-growing pile of desk work waiting for them. Gone are the days of just seeing and evaluating your patients.
Staff must ensure all necessary patient intake items are completed, which includes not only scheduling but also trying to locate each patient’s prior clinical data, laboratory results, and images, such as X-rays.
This means that staff is making countless phone calls, sending faxes, and scanning just to have this information available for use.
Of course, staff must also ensure that each encounter is accurately and timely recorded in an EMR solution that can at times seem tedious. Staff is also responsible for ensuring that each patient receives quality treatment and that ordered prescriptions are sent in and tests happen — along with monitoring treatment(s) the patient may be receiving or has received outside of the practice.
Adding in the many regulatory regulations and compliance requirements, safety trainings, patient privacy expectations, and licensure con-ed requirements — nurses’ burnout and the decline in physicians’ mental health are inevitable consequences.
Staffing Shortages & the Covid-19 Pandemic
Because of both physical demands and excessive administrative challenges — and adding in a consistently worsening staffing shortage, you will see nurses’ burnout continue to increase.
Getting the impossible done with even fewer hands on deck is a nearly unbearable responsibility for many healthcare professionals.
Similarly, with an increase in patient influx due to the Covid-19 pandemic and adding in the patients who were delayed care because of the pandemic, addressing patient needs accurately and adequately with even more patients to serve adds yet more stress.
How Improving Technology Can Help With Nurses’ Burnout
How can we prevent burnout from work in the healthcare setting and ensure clinical staff maintains good mental health — while simultaneously providing them with a well-deserved work-life balance?
Burnout is a serious topic with many implications able to wreak havoc on the mental health state of healthcare workers. It has the potential to adversely affect both their professional and personal lives and limit their physical abilities due to the symptoms of burnout.
Therefore, it’s imperative to change the current situation and provide a better work environment for healthcare personnel. But how do we achieve that?
One way to help is with innovation… and the drive for change and continuous improvement.
We can, in fact, alleviate some of the pressure nurses and clinicians experience by replacing workflows with more efficient ones, removing ineffective and time-consuming tasks with ones that allow clinicians to do what they actually want to do — treat patients.
Repetitive tasks can be automated by providing improved tools and making new technologies and apps available to clinical staff. Facilities can choose to implement these tools and give clinicians back precious time that can then be used for patient care instead.
Forward-thinking and innovative clinical staff using new technology now have options that can help improve patient care and relieve some of the stresses that plague clinicians.
The critical “obtain background clinical information for each patient being treated” workflow is one that is time-consuming and many times ineffective and incomplete. Fortunately, treating clinicians now have access to a new tool that can make this workflow magnitude more efficient and effective — without breaking the bank.
Vivlio Health is an innovative cloud-based tool that can help nurses and physicians accomplish just that. No more chasing after critical medical data and sifting through stacks of records.
We offer a one-platform stop to effectively and easily transfer, release, and sort medical records, so you can focus your time and energy on your patients and provide them with high-quality care.
Reach out to set up a free demo and bring innovation to your patient care facility.
KFF/The Washington Post Frontline Health Care Workers Survey – Toll of the Pandemic – 9666-2. KFF, 6 April 2021, https://www.kff.org/report-section/kff-the-washington-post-frontline-health-care-workers-survey-toll-of-the-pandemic/. Accessed 7 March 2023.
Flynn, Jack. 15+ Nursing Burnout Statistics : The Shocking Truth About Nursing – Zippia. Zippia, 24 February 2023, https://www.zippia.com/advice/nursing-burnout-statistics/. Accessed 8 March 2023.