During the third wave of the pandemic, researchers interviewed nurses to see how their perceptions had changed over the past year. At the start of the pandemic, nurses had reported optimism about supporting each other through the pandemic, but a third wave had replaced this with anger and exhaustion.
One source of outrage was how employers were managing a dwindling workforce. Clinical psychologist Dana Maynard found that incentives for new employees caused anger among those who had been on the front lines for a year without any retention rewards. Vicki McKenna, president of the Ontario Nurses Association, expressed concern about staffing, telling a reporter, “I fear it’s going to be disastrous for the workforce. I’m very concerned about the future of the nursing staff.”
Meanwhile, other sources warned of a possible shortage of nurses. “Canadian nurses are leaving in large numbers,” ran globe and mail Topic.
Appreciating what is happening to these nurses and understanding how to react to burnout, which can be a primary occupational hazard of health care work. This is especially true in a pandemic. Burnout, as usually measured, has three components: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization (apathy or emotional distance) and a low sense of professional accomplishment.
Burnout occurs in many professions, but health care exposes its professionals to unusual types of stress, including moral crises. This arises when professionals feel constrained to provide the best care. Examples include situations when care may be too invasive at the end of life, or when one health care worker is concerned about the care being provided by another. The moral crisis has been compounded by scarce resources and the inability to comfort families during the pandemic.
consequences of burnout
Burnout is bad for everyone. It is associated with reduced safety and quality of care for patients, and mental health problems and poor quality of life for professionals.
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For the health care system, burnout is associated with absenteeism, low productivity and thoughts of leaving one’s job. At a time when there is a shortage of nurses and doctors, we cannot afford to suffer more due to burnout.
Burnout is on the rise
Burnout was common before COVID-19 and is rampant now. For example, rates of severe emotional exhaustion were often in the 20 to 40 percent range before the pandemic, with higher rates in intensive care units and emergency medicine. Compare this to subsequent pandemic reporting rates of 62 percent, 63 percent and 72 percent from Canadian surveys.
It is no surprise that burnout from working in health care during the pandemic unprecedented in our lives has increased.
In addition to risking their own health, many health care professionals, for example, are working long hours and often lack staffing if coworkers are in quarantine or ill. Many maintained their full-time jobs while their children were unable to attend school. They must also manage uncertainty as policies change and a virus mutates, while providing care to critically ill individuals who have chosen not to vaccinate.
Burnout could end the health care workforce
Surveys of health care workers reveal an extraordinary challenge. A survey of members of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario found that 43 percent were considering quitting, more than those who felt the burn. Another Canadian study reported that 50 percent of surveyed nurses intended to quit.
Signing bonuses for new nurses, which angered nurses Dr. Maynard’s team interviewed, suggest that intention to leave is translating into action. Indeed, there are reports of shortages related to pandemic burnout in the news.
Since low staffing is both a cause and a consequence of burnout, the health care system can enter a particularly vicious downward spiral.
The solution must match the problem. Evidence indicates that burnout is more a result of working conditions than workers’ vulnerabilities: long hours, high workloads, moral distress and violence and abuse in the workplace, among other systemic problems.
And yet, much of the research that studies interventions to prevent and reduce burnout focuses on individuals rather than teaching things like coping skills and stress reduction techniques. Although providing individual intervention can be moderately helpful, as a sole response to an occupational hazard, it is distorted – such as teaching flood zone residents how to swim rather than helping them lift their homes or move them. Is.
The health care system urgently needs system level measures that protect its professionals from harm, and compensate them for hazards. These may include manageable hours, adequate vacation time, appropriate employee-to-patient ratios and workplace safety measures. Some organizations will try to recruit new healthcare professionals to manage the shortage, but recruitment is not permanent in a harmful environment.
Which brings us to the lead. Evidence supports the value of leadership in reducing burnout in health care, particularly leaders who are transparent, ethical, respectful, reflective and informed. We need health care leaders who are committed to protecting the health of providers and organizations as well as patients. The COVID-19 pandemic needs system-level support to stop the exodus of healthcare professionals.