Across the healthcare industry, we need to do a better job of supporting people at the frontlines of care.
More than half of U.S. physicians and 26% of nurses are experiencing burnout, and it’s affecting the entire healthcare ecosystem. The financial costs are skyrocketing, with burnout-related turnover costing $17 billion for U.S. doctors and an additional $14 billion for nurses. The human costs are devastating, reflected in a suicide rate among physicians that is two times the rate of the general population. Patients are paying a high cost as there is a correlation between burnout and an increased likelihood of medical errors.
A comprehensive review of the literature shows burnout is both a symptom and a driver of a systemic problem that is creating stress on teams and organizations. Unmanageable workloads and greater administrative burden due to electronic health records and other stressors are pushing dedicated professionals further away from their purpose—helping patients—and it’s taking a toll.
The systemic issues contributing to burnout have been mounting for a long time and can’t be fixed overnight.
However, there’s a lot we can do today to help leaders and teams bring about the type of change that will better support physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals whose purpose and careers center on caring for others.
- People and organizations need to stay connected to their purpose. We now have clinical evidence that shows significant health benefits when one connects to their purpose in life. When healthcare professionals have an opportunity to reflect on their personal purpose and prioritize patient interactions—the source of their original attraction to the profession—they are better able to be resilient in the face of the many stressors they face on the job every day.
- Empathetic leaders have a tremendous influence on resilience. While we can’t always control the larger dynamics in the healthcare ecosystem, supervisors, administrators and other leaders play an important role in motivating people to bring their best selves forward every day. The way leaders choose to show up at work, interact with their team and give them opportunities to grow, and structure their work environment can have a tremendous impact.
- We need to think beyond individuals and enable care teams to thrive. We look holistically at activating entire treatment teams around a shared purpose. Individuals who come together from disparate specialties and functions need to trust each other and act with empathy and compassion—not just for their patients, but their colleagues as well—to deliver the very best care.
I’m encouraged to see growing recognition of the issue, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. We need to come together across the healthcare ecosystem to start developing solutions that will create meaningful change in today’s stressful and demanding healthcare environment and better support the people who devote their lives to improving the health of others.
Len Greer has over 20 years of experience focused on improving patient health and lowering healthcare costs. He currently serves as President of Johnson & Johnson Health and Wellness Solutions, which serves as the center of excellence for capabilities in behavioral science and behavior modification, digital patient/consumer engagement, coaching tools, and outcomes measurement and analytics to drive results for J&J customers, businesses and employees around the world.