stressed clinicians with smartphone and computer

Hastings Center News

It’s Time to See Clinician Burnout for What It Is

“Clinician burnout is one of the most tenacious problems facing the contemporary health system. Recent years have seen a plethora of guidance on reducing burnout and improving health care workers’ well-being following the pandemic, but little evidence of improvement. Seeing the problem through an occupational health lens can reveal different solutions,” concludes a new commentary in KevinMD.

“It’s time to see clinician burnout for what it is: a problem of hazardous work environments.”

The authors are Mara Buchbindera medical anthropologist, Tania M. Jenkins, a sociologist, and John Staley, a public health researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Nancy Berlingera senior research scholar at The Hastings Center; and Liza Buchbinderan internal medicine physician and medical anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Adopting an occupational health lens on clinician burnout means shifting our focus from distressed workers to hazardous work environments. The authors have four recommendations.

First, flip the conceptual framing of burnout to begin from hazardous work environments. Solutions for burnout require changed environments that can support the workforce within them.

Second, embrace a workplace health and safety framework for clinician well-being. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) calls for regulating health care spaces for psychosocial safety in a similar way to how they are regulated for physical safety.

Third, prioritize analysis of and response to the structural conditions that lead to distressed work environments.

Fourth, adopt measurement strategies that incorporate organizational-level metrics for understanding clinician burnout and well-being.