Hospital nurses, doctors suffering burnout at alarming rates

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Physical violence. Sexual harassment. Verbal abuse. Indifferent management. Long hours on graveyard shifts. And a chance that you’ll catch a deadly illness.

If that sounds like an ideal job, consider working in a hospital.

A new survey finds that hospital doctors and nurses — including hospitals ranked among the best in the nation — are suffering from job burnout at alarming rates.

Nearly half of all nurses (47%) reported burnout, and 40% of nurses would leave their jobs if it was possible, according to the survey, published in JAMA Health Forum.

Doctors don’t fare much better: 32% reported feeling burnout, and 23% of hospital doctors would quit if possible.

The nationwide survey of 21,050 clinicians was conducted at 60 hospitals recognized by the American Nurses’ Credentialing Center as Magnet hospitals offering the best in nursing care and patient support.

The COVID-19 pandemic was a breaking point for many health care workers, who worked under brutal conditions and with the fear that they might contract the deadly virus — and carry it home to their families.

But working conditions haven’t improved much since the COVID-19 health crisis ended. Nationwide shortages of nursing staff and doctors were cited as a leading source of the problems.

“Hospitals have not been able to recover,” study author Dr. Linda Aiken, professor at Penn Nursing’s Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research at the University of Pennsylvania, told The Post.

But, Aiken added, “Things were bad before the pandemic,” and burnout was almost as high. When the pandemic hit, hospitals “got caught flat-footed.”

An exhausted doctor
Hospital doctors and nurses agree that increases in nurse staffing is the best solution to clinician burnout.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Among nurses in the survey, 87% agreed that improving nurse staffing was “very important” to their wellbeing, and 45% of doctors agreed.

Many clinicians over the age of 55, however, have simply decided to go into retirement early.

“There’s been a tremendous number of physicians and nurses … that have chosen to retire early solely because of the fact that they were working their tails off during COVID,” Dr. David Hass, president of the Connecticut Medical Society, told NBC Connecticut.

Workplace safety has also been cited as a serious problem: In the years since 2010, the rate of workplace violence injuries in hospitals has increased 95 percent, according to a 2021 report from the AFL-CIO.

And a staggering 82 percent of nurses surveyed by National Nurses United reported experiencing at least one type of workplace violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other serious concerns revealed by the survey included a lack of any control over workloads and concerns about patient safety.

An exhausted nurse
Nurses and doctors are openly hostile to wellness programs and resilience training that fails to address the root causes of widespread burnout.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

For example, more than half of physicians and nurses are not confident that their patients can safely manage their care after they are discharged from the hospital.

And “more than one-quarter of nurses give their own hospital an unfavorable grade on patient safety,” Aiken said.

“Patients are going to die unnecessarily,” she added, largely as a result of nurse staffing shortages. “Nurses are the glue that holds the hospital together.”

The response from hospital management has too often focused on helping doctors and nurses adapt to their grueling workplace conditions, instead of improving those conditions — “a focus that angers many clinicians because it places the burden of adapting on them,” the study authors wrote.

Clinicians are “flat-out hostile” to efforts like resilience training — like wellness advice, yoga classes and quiet rooms — that fail to address the underlying problem.

“There’s a big disconnect between clinicians and management,” Aiken noted. “They know what needs to be changed.”

“There’s really a shortage of nurses working in hospitals,” she added. “That’s the single most important thing hospitals can do to reduce clinicians’ burnout.”

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