Although healthcare providers have long faced challenges in the healthcare system, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated circumstances and ushered a rising healthcare worker burnout crisis in the United States, according to U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s, MD, MBA, warning in May 2022.
“The nation’s health depends on the well-being of our health workforce. Confronting the long-standing drivers of burnout among our health workers must be a top national priority,” Murthy said. “COVID-19 has been a uniquely traumatic experience for the health workforce and for their families, pushing them past their breaking point. Now, we owe them a debt of gratitude and action. And if we fail to act, we will place our nation’s health at risk. This Surgeon General’s Advisory outlines how we can all help heal those who have sacrificed so much to help us heal.”
To combat today’s conditions, the Surgeon General’s Advisory Addressing Health Worker Burnout recommended that healthcare organizations:
- Weave a commitment to worker health and safety into the organization’s fabric.
- Review and revise policies to ensure workers are not deterred from seeking appropriate health care.
- Increase access to mental health and substance abuse care.
- Rebuild connection among health workers to mitigate burnout.
- Combat bias, racism, and discrimination in the workplace.
- Invest in health prevention and social services to combat health inequities.
“At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and time and time again since, we’ve turned to our health workers to keep us safe, to comfort us, and to help us heal,” Xavier Becerra, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), said. “We owe all health workers—from doctors to hospital custodial staff—an enormous debt. And as we can clearly see and hear throughout this Surgeon General’s Advisory, they’re telling us what our gratitude needs to look like: real support and systemic change that allows them to continue serving to the best of their abilities. I’m grateful to Surgeon General Murthy for amplifying their voices today. As the secretary of Health and Human Services, I am working across the department and the U.S. government at large to use available authorities and resources to provide direct help to alleviate this crisis.”
Nationwide health worker burnout conditions could not only affect providers, but also patient populations. Staffing shortages are widespread in the healthcare system, especially among nurses. With more than half a million RNs expected to retire by the end of 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics identified the need for 1.1 million new RNs across the United States.
HHS reported that healthcare workforce burnout could affect patients’ access to preventive and immediate care, overall limiting the country’s ability to respond to health emergencies. Healthcare professionals, including oncology nurses, must take care of themselves so they can continue to deliver the best care possible.