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Protecting Health Care Workers from Burnout

A new federal call to action to support resiliency, address burnout

June 10, 2022

The U.S. surgeon general has issued a new warning about the urgent need to address the burnout crisis across health care.

In a new advisory, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said the U.S. health care workforce has been pushed to the breaking point following the “uniquely traumatic experience” of working during the pandemic. In a new call to action, Murthy said the U.S. most do more to build a thriving health care workforce.

“The nation’s health depends on the well-being of our health workforce,” Murthy said. “Confronting the long-standing drivers of burnout among our health workers must be a top national priority.”

Among the key takeaways in the report:

  • Definition:   Burnout is characterized by a high degree of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization (cynicism), and a low sense of personal accomplishment at work.
  • The personal toll:  The consequences of burnout can affect patient care and safety, including patient-provider relationships, medical errors, and hospital-acquired infections.
  • The cost of burnout:  Annual burnout-related turnover costs are $9 billion for nurses and between $2.6 billion to $6.3 billion for physicians. This does not include turnover among other types of health workers.
  • Expanding GME positions:  The U.S. is facing a shortage of 48,000 primary care physicians and 77,100 physicians in non-primary care specialties. Expanding graduate medical education (GME) positions can help meet future health needs, the report says.

“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,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “We owe all health workers—from doctors to hospital custodial staff—an enormous debt.”

The recommendations in the report include:

  • Transforming workplace culture to empower health workers and be responsive to their voices and needs
  • Eliminating punitive policies for seeking mental health and substance use disorder care
  • Protecting the health, safety, and well-being of all health workers
  • Reducing administrative burdens to help health workers have productive time with patients, communities, and colleagues
  • Prioritizing social connection and community as a core value of the health care system  
  • Investing in public health and our public health workforce

HAP continues to advocate for Pennsylvania’s health care workforce, calling for additional resources and support to address burnout and promote resiliency. In addition, through HAP’s Health Care Talent Task Force, HAP is guiding the development of strategies that will help attract and retain the health care talent pool across Pennsylvania. 

Learn more about our workforce advocacy online.