Society has built up a reliance on healthcare workers, they help us when we are ill, in pain, or have any concerns about our physical or mental wellbeing. Therefore, we need healthcare workers to be able to work to the best of their ability, which cannot happen if they are experiencing burnout. For example, burnout in physicians has been linked to suboptimal patient care, leading to medical errors. 

What is burnout?

Burnout is mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion. It often occurs as a result of prolonged or repeated stress, which is mainly caused by problems at work.

76% of healthcare workers were reported to suffer from burnout

This startling figure is inclusive of all healthcare staff, ranging from your local family doctor to a speech therapist. This statistic presents a problem that needs to be solved.

If this proportion of healthcare workers are experiencing burnout resulting in increased medical errors, then the cause of the problem needs to be identified.

First, we must understand the roles that are most affected by burnout to identify and tackle the issue. So let’s take a look…

The top 3 healthcare roles to suffer from burnout

1. Nurses

Nurses are at particular risk of burnout with one-third of nurses in the US suffering from its effects. At the moment, there is a high demand for nurses, as a direct result of COVID-19. Nursing is on the “front lines” and in this role they’re more likely to see excessive workloads, high demands in the workplace from colleges and those higher up, and experience death daily. It is reported that 68% of nurses put their patient’s health before their own.

2. Social Workers

At 75%, social workers are also highly likely to experience burnout. A recent study concluded that social work was the third-highest job at risk. It’s no surprise as they work in emotionally stressful environments and spend hours each day listening to other people’s trauma. Consequently, this had led to many social workers experiencing vicarious trauma (a negative reaction to trauma exposure) which makes burnout more likely.

3. Physicians

Approximately 50% of physicians in the US have reported symptoms of burnout (this has increased 10% since 2011). Particularly specialist physicians on the “front lines”, such as emergency medicine, family medicine, and general internal medicine are viewed at greater risk of burnout than other physicians. This is resulting from the experiences on the “front lines”, and their excess to trauma. However, 79% of physicians said their burnout began before the COVID-19 pandemic, which demonstrates that this is not just a pandemic problem. While COVID-19 may have played a factor in increasing burnout, there are other issues that also need addressing.

The Medscape National Physical Burnout and Suicide Report claimed that the physicians most burned out of 29 medical specialties were:

– Urology
– Neurology
– Nephrology
– Diabetes & Endocrinology
– Family Medicine

So why does burnout occur?

There are a variety of different reasons why burnout could occur. In healthcare however, it is clear that the individuals most affected are those working on the “front line”. For these workers, death, severe illness, emergency situations, etc., are a daily experience that can have a serious impact on their mental well-being.

However, other parts of their job requirements are making this worse. For example, when healthcare workers were asked to select their top three work-related stressors 49% stated that heavy or increased workload was a stressor. Do you find that when YOU don’t have a good night’s sleep, in the morning you don’t feel up to your tasks and you are not as efficient at work? Well, this is the norm for front-line workers as their job includes long hours and a lack of sleep.

COVID-19 is not the sole cause for burnout in healthcare workers, but it has worsened the issue.

Final thoughts

Healthcare workers are the avengers of today, they protect us all and do a good job of it. However, they ALSO need protection. The first step in reducing the risks of burnout is to identify the roles that are most affected by burnout and discuss why those roles suffer the most. Only then, can healthcare organizations put systems in place to help reduce the risk of burnout in their workers.

As healthcare workers are being relied on more than ever since COVID-19, they have felt an increase in pressure and stress. In identifying the roles most likely to suffer from burnout, this article has given greater insight into the causes of burnout in the healthcare sector. It shows that burnout in healthcare pre-existed COVID-19 and is an issue in desperate need of solving.

More importantly, this article demonstrates that healthcare workers in all areas need extra support in their day-to-day from not just their direct managers but also from the organizations they work for. Healthcare organizations must recognize the causes and effects of burnout in their workforce to not only protect the individual’s physical and mental well-being, but to understand what they can do on a larger-scale to reduce the risk of burnout.

Ian Tomlin

Ian Tomlin


Ian Tomlin is a marketer, entrepreneur, business leader and management consultant. His passion is to help make great ideas happen. Relentlessly optimistic about the potential of technology for good, Ian’s 30+ year career has focused around the intersect of strategy, technology and marketing. He writes on subjects including workforce management, future of work, talent acquisition technology and organizational design.
Ian has written books, articles and guides on brand, digital transformation, enterprise applications, data science, and organizational design. He can be reached via LinkedIn or Twitter.