Woman physician in operating room, clearly tired and stressed

The Short-Term and Long-Term Impact of Burnout

The healthcare industry is not for the faint of heart. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a grind with teams of physicians and nurses being understaffed and overworked. It’s more important that ever to understand the short-term and long-term impact of burnout.

Since the pandemic, even more stressors are being added to that list. Healthcare workers are now being further burdened with serious safety risks in addition to the already stressful work environment.

Leaders in the healthcare industry need to be aware of the risks of burnout symptoms and the potential short-term and long-term impact that burnout can have on the lives of physicians and nurses, as well as a medical practice.

How Has Burnout Affected Your Life? Infographic from "Death by 1000 Cuts"
Infographic from ‘Death by 1000 Cuts’: Medscape National Physician Burnout & Suicide Report 2021

Hopefully, with increased exposure of the subject of burnout and the risks that it poses, healthcare leaders will realize the danger of this epidemic and take the steps necessary to initiate honest and healthy conversations with physicians and nurses about what can be done to take some of the stress out of their work-lives.

Short-Term Impacts

The short-term impact of burnout on physicians and nurses can range in severity from a minor inconvenience to a serious, potentially dangerous issue. Burnout can lead to feelings of lack of purpose, depression, anxiety, and emotional exhaustion. In severe cases, the damage is  more tangible with symptoms such as vehicle accidents, alcohol and substance abuse, and even suicidal ideations. Healthcare workers who are experiencing any of these symptoms of burnout need to consider reaching out and talking to someone about it. These are issues that need to be addressed, not bottled up.

It is important to remember that physicians and nurses are not the only ones that suffer the consequences of burnout. When healthcare workers are experiencing burnout, patient care suffers as well. Physicians who are experiencing at least one major symptom of burnout were more than twice as likely to report a major medical error compared to the previous 3 months. In addition to the immediate danger of a medical error, burned out physicians are far less productive, resulting in poor patient access poor, reluctance to share information, and decreased patient satisfaction.

Graph showing doctors responses to the question "How has covid-19 affected your worklife happiness?"
Infographic from ‘Death by 1000 Cuts’: Medscape National Physician Burnout & Suicide Report 2021

Long-Term Impacts

Doctors and nurses that are experiencing burnout are also leaving the workforce.  Many surgeons are retiring early, and burnout is a major contributor. These are doctors at the height of their career that are still able to have a hugely beneficial impact on their patients.

But between being overworked and assigned too many bureaucratic tasks, it is not worth it for them to continue practicing. Leaders should be working harder to accommodate these physicians. In the end, it will lead to a higher level of care for the patient.

Physicians are continuing to retire earlier, while there are not enough new doctors to fill their shoes. This is leading to an ever-expanding shortage of doctors. With the shortage, demand rises and quality falls. This is devastating news for patients.

Healthcare leaders need to be doing all that they can to stop this trend in its tracks. Organizations need to provide more incentives for physicians to stay on board later in their careers.

This means less hours and most importantly, focusing on their patients rather than learning new computer systems and completing bureaucratic tasks.

When healthcare leaders make the jobs of physicians and nurses more enjoyable, we all win.

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