This Labor Day, celebrate you! Take a moment to reflect on your work caring for your patients and supporting your colleagues. In an industry where 69% of workers report experiencing depression due to burnout and 82% report emotional or physical exhaustion, it’s essential to find time to recuperate.
In fact, Medscape found that in 2021 one in ten health professionals considered or attempted suicide, and the rate of suicide in the medical industry is nearly double the general average. About 20% of the 13,000 surveyed by Medscape reported feelings of depression. “Now, not only am I tired of work—I’m tired of life,” one emergency medicine physician wrote.
As we are due to convene in a few weeks, the Point-of-Care Ultrasound (POCUS) Certification Academy™ wanted to address this critical topic impacting our community. At the POCUS World Conference on September 16th and 17th, Lisa Rotenstein, MD, MBA, will speak about the importance of preserving health workers’ mental and physical health. Dr. Rotenstein is a primary care physician, an assistant professor at Harvard University, and Associate Faculty at Ariadne Labs. Her research focuses on physician well-being and gender diversity in the medical field.
Even before COVID-19, she recognized the stress physicians were experiencing due to the nature of their work. Dr. Rotenstein conducted a study in 2018 into the prevalence of job-related burnout and found that, though many in her industry were experiencing it, the accurate measure of prevalence was impossible to gauge due to the lack of a standardized definition. Her team highlighted the significance of developing such a delineation in order to measure the condition’s effect on the medical industry.
Despite the inability to accurately measure burnout, the pandemic very clearly placed additional burdens on a field already experiencing overscheduling, irregular hours, and increasingly high demand. Since 2020, many have joined Dr. Rotenstein in her interest in understanding and mitigating exhaustion. In May 2022, the United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy released a statement outlining the effects of burnout and defining the condition as being “characterized by a high degree of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization (i.e., cynicism) and a low sense of personal accomplishment at work.” He warned that burnout would continue to increase and urged health workers and organizations to be conscious of possible outcomes.
As the population grows, so will the need for healthcare, which will grow much faster than the availability of medical providers—likely leading to additional stress. Many professionals may elect to leave the field early, increasing the disparity between demand and supply. In addition to limiting the availability of healthcare services, practitioners’ burnout also reduces the quality of care. Depersonalization can lead to unsafe practices or unprofessionalism with patients. The turnover that results from physician burnout also disrupts the continuity of patient care.
In 2019 we interviewed Dr. Gordy Johnson, hospitalist and president of the medical staff at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland, Oregon. He supports the Surgeon General’s statement, saying, “The most common sign of burnout is loss of bedside manner. The detachment from the work brought on by this condition leads us to forget the compassion required to do our jobs well. Without even realizing it, we venture away from the heart of it all.”
To help reduce the strain burnout causes on healthcare workers and patients, the Surgeon General recommends checking in with colleagues and other practitioners. Watch out for signs of stress: irritability, impaired judgment, emotional distress, or increased substance or alcohol use. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for help if you’re experiencing these symptoms, and be conscientious of your physical health.
Every Labor Day we celebrate the achievements of American workers. This Labor Day, POCUS Certification Academy will celebrate the health workers who log long hours, face high demand, and have devoted their lives to the wellness of their patients. Take a second to look back and appreciate your own accomplishments. You deserve it!