US surgeon general: Confronting burnout 'must be a top national priority'
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, MD, MBA, issued an advisory addressing the alarming rate of burnout among health care workers.
“The nation’s health depends on the well-being of our health workforce,” Murthy said in an HHS press release. “Confronting the long-standing drivers of burnout among our health workers must be a top national priority. 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.”
The advisory outlines recommendations for how “the whole of society” can address factors contributing to burnout as well as improve infrastructure and well-being for health care workers. These recommendations include ways health care organizations; federal, state, local and tribal governments; insurers and payers; technology companies; academic organizations, training programs and accreditation bodies; family, friends and communities; and health care workers themselves can do to mitigate burnout.
High rates of burnout and resignation that were present before the pandemic have reached new highs in the U.S. Healio previously reported that 45% of U.S. physicians reported experiencing burnout in the past 2 years, compared with 25% of their European counterparts. Meanwhile, suicidal ideation remains high among physicians, with 17.4% experiencing it in their lifetime, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis.
Burnout and mental health disorders are also prominent among nurses and other health care workers and have impacted the growth of these roles. It is projected that the U.S. will experience a shortage of more than 3 million low-wage health care workers in the next 5 years and a shortage of up to 139,000 physicians by 2033, according to the release.
Among the topline recommendations laid out in the advisory are:
- transform workplace culture to empower health workers and be responsive to their voices and needs;
- eliminate punitive policies for seeking mental health and substance use disorder care;
- protect the health, safety and well-being of all health workers;
- reduce administrative burdens to help health workers have productive time with patients, communities and colleagues;
- prioritize social connection and community as a core value of the health care system; and
- invest in public health and our public health workforce.
Moreover, the advisory emphasizes the need for further research on health care worker burnout and well-being across various health settings.
“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,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in the release. “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.”
- Dong M, et al. Suicide Life Threat Behav. 2020;doi:10.1111/sltb.12690.
- Health worker burnout. https://www.hhs.gov/surgeongeneral/priorities/health-worker-burnout/index.html. Accessed May 23, 2022.
- New surgeon general advisory sounds alarm on health worker burnout and resignation. https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2022/05/23/new-surgeon-general-advisory-sounds-alarm-on-health-worker-burnout-and-resignation.html. Published May 23, 2022. Accessed May 23, 2022.
- What physicians want: address burnout, staffing concerns, says 2022 Apollo Intelligence global healthcare report. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20220328005164/en. Published March 28, 2022. Accessed May 23, 2022.