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Physician and Nurse Burnout: The Signs to Watch Out For & How to Reduce It

by The Leadership Development Group

Physician and nurse burnout is a severe issue that’s been plaguing the healthcare industry for years. Recognized by the World Health Organization as a syndrome resulting from chronic distress, physician and nurse burnout is a serious occupational phenomenon that has been accelerated and intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In fact, today 61% of physicians and others across the healthcare ecosystem report  experiencing feelings of burnout. And, its been reported that physicians and nurses are 2x more likely to commit suicide than the average person. The US Department of Health and Human Services expects a significant increase in the number of physicians and nurses who will be working in poor conditions and under increased levels of stress by 2025.  

Effective leadership plays a significant role in creating the conditions for success in combating burnout. It is crucial, therefore, for healthcare organizations to prioritize leadership development now. In this article, we’re uncovering the primary signs of burnout, the impact burnout has on healthcare teams and patients, as well as the most optimal strategy for alleviating burnout. 

The Main Signs of Physician and Nurse Burnout

The first step to reducing physician and nurse burnout is to understand and recognize its telltale signs. It’s likely that physicians and nurses who are experiencing burnout will exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Emotional exhaustion, irritability, and overall discouragement
  • Replacement of empathy with cynicism, negativity, and feeling emotionally numb 
  • A low sense of professional effectiveness and capabilities

Keep in mind, it’s common for physician and nurse burnout to go unnoticed for a bit. However, over a period of time, those who have been suffering in silence will begin to outwardly show their symptoms, be it through their work, personality, or demeanor. It is critical for all leaders to be on the lookout for signs of burnout within their organizations and to develop and implement strategies to address it.  

The Impact of Burnout on Physicians and Nurses 

According to a recent study, nurses that left or are considering leaving their job due to excess burnout reported the causes of their burnout as a stressful work environment (68.6% and 59.5%, respectively) and inadequate staffing (63.0% and 60.9%, respectively). On top of this, most leaders (14% of physicians, as one example)   do not seek help when they’re feeling burnt out, often because of the stigma associated with seeking help and admitting weakness.

Additionally, many physicians and nurses who experience burnout have increased alcohol and drug use rates which can also lead to a higher risk of suicide. According to USA Today, more than 100,000 physicians and nurses struggle with abuse or addiction causing detrimental hindrances to their ability to work, think, function, and take care of patients.

The Effect of Physician and Nurse Burnout on Patients

Physician and nurse burnout doesn’t just affect the individual experiencing it, it also negatively impacts patients. Burnout causes disengagement between the provider and the patient. Thus, patients are likely to experience:

  1. Lower quality of care
  2. Lower patient satisfaction
  3. An increased chance of medical errors
  4. Inconsistent treatment

Physician and nurse burnout is highly toxic for healthcare professionals and their patients, we know that. But, what can be done? Let's take a look at solutions to reducing burnout.

Prioritize Leadership Development & Coaching to Reduce Burnout

Through our years of experience building physician and nurse leaders’ capacity for leading, we’ve determined that burnout can be quelled with leadership development and coaching. While there are dozens of benefits to leadership development, we’re highlighting a few of the top outcomes that reduce physician and nurse burnout below.  

Many physicians and nurses are afraid to speak up when they’re feeling overwhelmed. With the help of a leadership coach, physician and nurse coachees learn strategies to enhance their confidence and become empowered to establish open communication between themselves, their teams, and administration. They learn how to create a safe space where they can confide in one another and bring issues to other leaders without fear of rejection or judgment. Together, healthcare leaders and their team can develop a course of action to help ease workload, mitigate stress, and improve performance. 

Leadership development and coaching enables healthcare leaders to better understand, allocate, and manage the workload of all employees. This way, no singular person is being overwhelmed or overworked. Along with enhanced communication between the entire team and improved time management, employees feel more supported and secure in their position as a physician or nurse. 

Take a look at our case study to better understand the value of leadership development to reduce burnout.

Final Thoughts

Physician and nurse burnout will never go away on its own and it will always prevail if allowed. The good news is that the earlier healthcare leaders acknowledge and address burnout with the right leadership development and coaching plan, they can drastically reduce its impact. 

It’s time to confront physician and nurse burnout head-on. Get in touch with our team of experts and jumpstart putting in place strategies to quell burnout and develop leaders at all levels.  

Topics: Leadership Development, Leadership, Leadership Resources, Executive Coaching, Team Development, Physician Leadership