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Surgeon General Calls for Systemic Approach to Health Worker Burnout

A new advisory on burnout in the health care workforce from U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA, calls for a whole-of-society approach to protect and support health workers.

The advisory discusses moral injury and the effect the looming workforce shortage will have on the nation’s health. Murthy also highlights the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and reviews groups of health workers disproportionately affected before and during the pandemic.

To tackle the root causes of burnout, Murthy calls for an approach that tackles system-level challenges associated with organizational culture, policy, regulations, information technology, financial incentives, and health inequities. This includes:

  • protecting the health, safety, and well-being of all health workers;
  • eliminating punitive policies for seeking mental health and substance use care;
  • reducing administrative burden and other workplace burdens to help health workers make time for what matters;
  • transforming organizational cultures to prioritize health worker well-being and show all health workers that they are valued;
  • recognizing social connection and community as core values of the health care system; and
  • investing in public health and the public health workforce.

The advisory recommends health care organizations:

  • transform workplace culture to empower health workers and be responsive to their needs;
  • build a commitment to worker health and safety into the organization;
  • review and revise policies to ensure health workers are not deterred from seeking appropriate care for their physical health, mental health, or substance use challenges;
  • increase access to high-quality, confidential mental health and substance use care for all health workers;
  • develop mental health support services tailored to health workers’ needs;
  • rebuild community and social connection among health workers to mitigate burnout and feelings of loneliness and isolation;
  • help health care providers prioritize quality time with patients and colleagues;
  • combat bias, racism, and discrimination in the workplace;
  • work with health workers and communities to confront health misinformation; and
  • invest in health prevention and social services to mitigate health inequities.

The advisory also includes recommendations for governments, health insurers, technology companies, academic institutions, and researchers to mitigate health worker burnout. Recommendations for policymakers include investing in reimbursement models that align with person-centered care and to recruit a diverse workforce. Health insurers are called to improve health care quality by supporting the quality and quantity of time workers spend with patients. Both groups are asked to reduce administrative burdens and support health workers’ mental health.

Contact Senior Director of Policy Erin O’Malley at eomalley@essentialhospitals.org or 202.585.0127 with questions.

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About the Author

Julie Kozminski is a senior policy analyst at America's Essential Hospitals.

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