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Healthcare Worker Burnout: Triple Threat?

Author: Nikki Jiang

Editors: Misha Wichita and Eric Lin

Artist: Jenny Luo

Healthcare workers are the pillars that hold up our society. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we all witnessed the true importance of health and how, without it, nobody can function. The restaurant you love cannot open, your favorite movie can’t be shown in theaters, and you can no longer see your friends at school. We are unable to do all the things we love in life without healthcare workers' unrelenting work in maintaining societal health. However, their increasingly long hours, lack of support, and emotional burdens lead to extremely high rates of burnout in healthcare workers. Burnout is a state of mental and occasionally physical exhaustion due to work-related stress and a lack of personal satisfaction. You may have experienced it yourself when it comes to school or work. A dramatic increase in healthcare worker burnout was seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the issue has always existed. So, what are the causes of burnout in healthcare workers, what are some common symptoms, and how can burnout be overcome?

Healthcare workers were put on the frontlines with COVID-19: they had to deal with an overwhelming number of patients and work longer hours under grueling conditions, all while keeping a deadly, infectious disease at bay. Other causes of burnout include high student debt, lack of work-life balance, and lack of support from healthcare administration. According to the Mayo Clinic, more than 3 in 5 doctors reported experiencing burnout in 2021. In addition to this statistic, other surveys concluded that 7 in 10 physicians do not feel valued for their work. This is an unfortunate shared experience amongst healthcare workers of all medical fields and was prevalent even before the COVID-19 outbreak. According to the National Academy of Medicine, up to 54% of U.S. nurses reported burnout symptoms. Some symptoms of experiencing burnout include a loss of patience, lack of enjoyment, difficulty focusing, and increasing self-doubt. 

Primarily for healthcare workers, burnout may affect the quality of care that a patient receives. Furthermore, exhaustion in the workplace poses a life-threatening risk when it comes to healthcare. These mental burdens of burnout make healthcare workers more susceptible to mental health challenges and may cause them to leave the workforce. Because of these mental burdens, there is a high shortage of healthcare workers, making it less likely for patients to receive the adequate care they need. 

This brings us back to the question of how we reduce burnout in healthcare workers as well as improve the health of both the patient and the worker. One example is the implementation of nationwide student loan forgiveness programs, which have already been proven to reduce additional workplace stress for many healthcare workers. Moreover, a strong support system from the healthcare administration and the local community can bring back a sense of control and increase personal satisfaction. Yet, the most important solution in overcoming burnout is a reduced workload, which diminishes workplace stress, improves the quality of care for patients, and ultimately promotes healthy well-being for patients and workers. 



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