(Understanding and Handling) Burnout Among Healthcare Professionals

(Understanding and Handling) Burnout Among Healthcare Professionals

Burnout happens when you’re overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to keep up with life’s incessant demands. Burnout is the state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress and it is accompanied by the constant feeling of being swamped and unable to cope, usually with work. ICD-11 describes it as:

“A syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

Burnout symptoms are experienced across all job fields however, data shows that it is significantly more prevalent (up to 10.1% higher) among health professionals in the healthcare sector. A systematic review of burnout among healthcare providers in sub-Saharan Africa revealed that burnout cases were highest among nurses.

The current state of our health systems has contributed to the increase in cases of burnout among health workers. This leaves them at higher risk of substance abuse as well as mental health challenges. They work in distressing environments that strain their physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. Ultimately, not only is it detrimental to their well-being, but it also decreases the quality of care received by patients.

Causes of Burnout among Healthcare Workers

There are many factors contributing to burnout among health workers, ranging from workplace systems and cultures to wider societal, cultural, structural, and organizational factors. Some factors contributing to burnout among healthcare workers include excessive workloads, administrative burdens, limited say in scheduling, and lack of organizational support. Even being a resident in a health facility increased the experience of burnout. Below are some causes of burnout among healthcare workers;

This shift stems from an industry-wide adjustment in priorities and financial pressures. For example, health insurance companies dictate patient care based on what services they’ll cover. This takes away control from doctors.

Symptoms of Burnout in Healthcare Workers

Some symptoms of burnout among healthcare workers include:

Compassion fatigue is characterized by irritability and reduced ability to feel empathy towards patients and their health concerns. Compassion fatigue is often stimulated by stress as a result of extremely long work hours, excessive demands, and a lack of management support at the workplace.

2. Lack of Excitement in the Workplace

Dreading the job and its accompanying tasks is a telltale sign of burnout. Despite every job having peak periods where work is more demanding and might even be discouraging, a constant feeling of dread or lack of excitement, would hint that the individual is experiencing burnout.

3. Persistent Feelings of Fatigue

This is the feeling of being constantly tired, struggling to wake up, and even falling asleep can be signs of burnout. It also reduces motivation and passion for work.

4. Emotional Detachment

Healthcare workers are expected to be empathetic and connect with patients in order to provide quality healthcare. Once there’s a disconnect and rather than empathy the health worker is easily irritated and insensitive, there’s a need to investigate the reason for such behavior. Emotional detachment is a glaring red flag for burnout. It can affect the team’s ability to maintain a patient-centric approach to care.

5. Feeling Unappreciated

When healthcare workers (and people generally) feel unappreciated it could lead to burnout. This happens because it begins to seem to them as though nothing they do is enough. This eventually leads to resentment in fulfilling work duties which adversely impacts patient care.

6. Constant Work-Related Anxiety

For health workers, worrying is a facet of care. Nonetheless, it becomes a cause for concern when there’s constant, crippling work-related anxiety.

Preventing Burnout among Healthcare Professionals

It is impossible to completely eradicate stress in the workplace, however, healthcare organizations can implement evidence-based policies, programs, and solutions that identify, address, and prevent burnout for health workers. It’s important to listen to health workers and the possible challenges that they might face in executing their duties.

Being key stakeholders in healthcare delivery, it is necessary that they are actively involved in the improvement of work processes, flow, and culture. As they promote the health of others, it’s important that they receive health benefits and access to emotional support. Health professionals recommend 7 hours of sleep for optimum functionality hence a need for shorter shifts and less overtime - although this is most likely in settings where the healthcare workforce is sufficient.

Institutions can also implement de-stressing activities such as regular paid vacations (as well as encouraging or requiring nurses to use vacation days), sick leave, family leave, and rest breaks. They can also establish and enforce a zero-tolerance policy against violence on staff even by patients; prioritize the provision of adequate personal protective equipment; increase work schedule flexibility and autonomy; and put measures in place to combat bias, racism, and discrimination in the workplace.


There are many opportunities to strengthen organizational cultures and environments to be safer and more generous, in addition to improving the workplace experience of all health workers. Health professionals are vital to sustaining the general health of society and as such, their well-being should be prioritized. Engaging health workers and involving them in decision-making empowers them in their work, ultimately ensuring a high level of healthcare service delivery.










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