Only 1 in 3 clinicians have access to psychological debriefings for emotionally challenging cases. Is healthcare’s alarming burnout and great resignation surprising?
The working conditions of health professionals are a topic that has often been discussed. The healthcare industry is facing an unprecedented rate of clinician shortage, but the old question remains - are the basic needs of today’s clinicians being met?
In a satirical yet shocking study published in 2010, it was found that junior doctors working in intensive care produced less urine and were more at risk of acute kidney injury (probably due to not drinking enough) than their patient counterparts.
Twelve years on, we are facing one of the biggest clinician shortages, with the highest burnout rate to date. In Israel, doctors are striking over long hours, and in Sierra Leone and the UK, over pay. With nearly half of healthcare workers planning to leave their positions by 2025, the questions remain - are their working conditions really subpar?
A JAMA study published in 2021 highlighted the top reasons why 418,769 nurses left their job that year: stressful work environments, lack of good management or leadership, burnout, inadequate staffing, and better pay/benefits elsewhere.
Against the backdrop of these two studies, Medcase surveyed hundreds of clinicians from its health professional community across the globe to see how far we’ve come in addressing the needs, health, and working environment of practicing clinicians.
Parallel to the results of the study published 12 years ago, nearly 51 % of respondents stated that they did not feel that they were drinking enough water at work. Furthermore, only 61 % felt that they were usually able to use the bathroom when they needed to, and 62.7 % did not take their allocated break time at work. Isn’t it foreseeable that clinicians quit from stress and fatigue? These basic needs, arguably, are the first things employers should address.
On a similar note , only 23.7 % reported that their place of work offers debriefing sessions for emotionally challenging cases. This is shocking in an industry that is built on emergency response , accurate and swift treatment as part of the day-to-day job. Debriefing is important for reducing psychological harm to individuals and acts as a great platform to prevent untoward incidents and initiate change on a systemic level.
On a more positive note, 72.6% feel that their interpersonal relations with colleagues is excellent, in terms of getting enough support if they don’t know something at work. This kind of support acts as a morale booster for clinicians during a tough day.
It appears that a job in healthcare also has a significant impact on one’s personal life. Only 1 in 2 clinicians take alltheir annual contracted days off, while up to 50.7% would not feel comfortable asking for additional time off for personal reasons. Again, in a workforce where burnout is already rampant, time off is essential to ensure that health providers can continue doing their job in the long term, all while remaining diligent and patient.
For many years, doctors, nurses and other health professionals have been raising concerns about their extremely stressful work environments. Part of this is the expected nature of healthcare and health professionals are required to help their patients to the greatest of their ability and judgment .. However, the statistics show that their basic needs and emotional well-being are always put secondary and this is very concerning. With the great resignation on the loom, health organizations need to prioritize and seriously address these concerns for the welfare of their physicians and patients alike.
According to a recent Medcase survey, nearly 64% of clinicians cannot currently schedule their own hours to vary week by week if needed. But sentiments within the health professional community are changing, and with the rise of the gig economy, this is set to change. Here are a few considerations that health providers need to be aware of.
The market for locum health practitioners and travel nurses is growing at an unprecedented rate. Though fuelled in part by the COVID-19 crisis, which consequently led to the illness of hospital staff, it is in fact, a trend that has been significant for many years. The growing shortage of health practitioners and plans for those remaining to leave means that our health systems will increasingly have to rely on short-term, un-contracted staff to fill their rota gaps. The shift-work nature of healthcare also complicates the employment of long-term staff who want more control of their own schedule.
The future of clinical staffing appears to be inevitably shifting to a gig economy, and this could be a good change. Locum tenens and non-contracted practitioners tend to be more diverse and have a more varied amount of professional experience across different specialties and job roles, balancing the hyperspecialization of healthcare we see today. In working within different hospital systems and clinical workflows, they pick up what works better and carry this understanding to their future jobs.
We see that The demand for remote work and work-from-home opportunities across all industries is rising. Health practitioners naturally want these opportunities too. This improvement in work-life balance could lead to the retention of healthcare staff within the industry. In a recent survey conducted by Medcase on its clinician community, 74.4% wanted more flexibility in scheduling their hours. In reality, 50.3% of clinicians currently do not even take all their annual contracted days off.
As the future of clinical staffing inevitably shifts to a new gig economy, here are some major considerations health systems and health providers have to take into account:
- Onboarding and training: working in different locations and for different employers could mean repeated onboarding to different clinical systems (clinical flow, protocols, IT systems, etc.). Setting clinical standards for multiple companies and onboarding through the same platform could make this easier.
- Time-efficiency: locum work often requires long commutes. Moving practices and services virtually totelehealth helps utilize precious clinician time.
- Scheduling: a fully virtual and automated scheduling system that matches the health practitioner’s availability to staffing requirements allows better time utilization and gives the practitioner greater flexibility. Currently, Only 36% of clinicians can schedule their working hours to vary week-by-week , so telehealth platforms that offer this service would be of great appeal for the recruitment of health professionals.
- Hybrid work model - Identifying parts of the workflow that are more flexible and allowing clinicians to rotate between in-office and remote assignments helps them have a better work-life balance, thus ensuring better patient care. Hybrid model reduces clinician burnout and helps retain the workforce by enabling clinicians and staff to be productive in their preferred environment.
- Single sign-ons: the growing number of technological tools also means that clinicians have to remember a growing number of passwords and spend time logging into each one. For locum tenens and travel nurses, this is multiplied by the number of different locations they work. Single sign-ons would allow clinicians to focus their time and attention on patient care.
In this day and age, where a major health crisis has pushed everybody to adapt and thrive in the new normal, healthcare professionals haven’t been so privileged, leading to skyrocketing burnout rates. It is time health systems and providers move into the new reality.