The Rx: for Provider Stress

How Wellness Programs and Stress Interventions Combat Healthcare Burnout    

Emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and low sense of accomplishment generally lead to one thing in the healthcare field— burnout. It’s estimated that professional burnout affects more than half of doctors, says a recent study from the University of Rochester School of Medicine. Beyond physicians, there are nurses and other staff members across all disciplines being affected (including technicians, social workers, and therapists) by chronic stress, which may lead to anxiety, depression, and other health issues if left unaddressed.

Burnout is defined as severe stress, which can lead to a number of physical and mental symptoms. Some of the most common early warning signs of job stress include headaches, upset stomach, short tempers, sleep disturbances, and difficulty concentrating, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Sustained stress may increase the risk of developing other conditions including insomnia, high blood pressure, chronic pain, diabetes, and even heart problems.

In the world of healthcare, burnout is often triggered by the stress of patient care, decision-making, taking responsibility, and change, according to the International Nurses Review.

Beyond affecting healthcare workers, prolonged stress is very costly to organizations as it may affect retention rates, morale, and absenteeism.

Reports of early retirement, staff shortages, and reduced job satisfaction for healthcare workers are also connected to chronic stress and burnout. Research shows that provider stress may also impact patient safety, health outcomes, and overall quality of care.

Professional burnout is often associated with working in pressure-filled environments, with high rates of social interactions, and a demanding caseload. A recent study found that doctors who work in the front line of care and those who lacked a work-life balance were at an increased risk for burnout, according to the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA). Doctors working in emergency, general internal, and family medicine were most prone to burnout. “Policy makers and health care organizations must address the problem of physician burnout for the sake of physicians and their patients,” concludes the JAMA study.

But with positive coping strategies, wellness programs, and interventions in place, health and medical organizations can greatly reduce burnout among their employees. It begins with reevaluating your workplace culture and instituting a healthy, supportive environment.

And recent research supports that healthcare organizations benefit from integrating stress management techniques and wellness practices into the workplace.

An 8-week mindful-based wellness program was found to be effective for cutting stress levels and increasing quality of life and self-compassion in healthcare professionals, according to a study in the International Journal of Stress Management.

A review of a literature in Journal of Graduate Medical Education found that workplace interventions reduced burnout in doctors in residency. Inventions included education about burnout, mentoring, emotional intelligence training and wellness workshops.

Coping strategies, or outlets that help employees to refresh and restore their personal wellbeing, may also be helpful, according to a recent CDC report. Some examples of stress-relieving activities are eating a well-balanced diet, exercising regularly, establishing good sleep hygiene, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, and practicing relaxation exercises.

Companies that periodically evaluate the stress levels of their employees demonstrate that they value their personal health and wellbeing. By introducing healthy living seminars, exercise programs, wellness and nutrition coaching, and biometric screenings into the workplace, company culture becomes more healthy and vibrant. Wellness programs typically provide services such as referral networks to specialists, custom programs tailored to organizational needs, and interactive tools to track progress.

Wellness programs and stress interventions management skills can empower staff to choose healthy responses to daily stressors and avoid professional burnout.

These health promotion and protection strategies also pay back with lower turnover rates and healthcare costs. Inspiring wellbeing in your organization creates a resilient workplace where employees and the organization are at their peak of health.