One of the country’s top health appointees says addressing medical worker burnout is a major priority.
“Caregivers have to take care of themselves,” said Rear Admiral Aisha Mix, assistant surgeon general and chief nurse officer at the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, during her keynote address.
Doing so starts at the top, she said: As leaders, “we’ve got to be in a position where we can … create the change.”
The COVID-19 pandemic led many clinicians to push themselves in response to surges of sick patients. But several of the systemic factors associated with burnout, such as having limited appointment time and dealing with technological burdens, were present before the novel coronavirus.
In May, a Surgeon General’s Advisory sounded the alarm. It cited National Academy of Medicine findings that between one-third and one-half of doctors and nurses report “crisis levels” of burnout, with the number even higher for medical students.
Given the realities of the industry, Mix said she no longer encourages “resilience.” She compared working in healthcare to stretching a rubber band—eventually, employees will be extended beyond their limits. In fact, she fears that’s already the case.
Instead, Mix stressed the usefulness of fortitude—inner strength that enables people to be prepared for obstacles ahead. She outlined a range of potential long-term fixes for burnout, including better reimbursement models to reward patient-centered and value-based care; programs that foster employee growth; and strategies to engage and mentor emerging leaders.
“A pizza party is not it,” she said.
She also highlighted the significance of leaders centering their own mental health. They should ensure their professional goals are aligned with personal values and take the time to invest in their roles. She advised working with an executive coach and recognizing the value of teamwork.
Since she began her career as a nurse, Mix has dedicated a block of time on her calendar at the beginning and end of each day to prepare and reflect.
“Become your own priority,” she said.