Appealing to the human side of healthcare professional burnout

The term “burnout” is akin to “eating napalm.” Burnout is a highly emotional and unpleasant state of being, especially for healthcare professionals who constantly care for others and tend to their needs. It can be complicated at times when you’re working with ill patients or dealing with personal issues that add pressure to an already stressful job. One way that healthcare professionals can deal with the demanding requirements of their job is by understanding the importance of taking time for self-care every day. Throughout the years of residency training and later in one’s career, there is a high risk of burnout. But there are ways to prevent and overcome it. Learn how Healing Breaths is helping healthcare workers across the nation to combat burnout effects and reconnect to their joy and purpose. Click here to schedule a time with a wellness account executive.

What’s the Impact of Burnout on the Healthcare Sector?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the healthcare industry has shed approximately 500,000 people since February 2020. Even as the country works its way through recovery from its near-apocalyptic state at the very beginning of the pandemic, the coronavirus and all its variants have left the nation traumatized and droves of health care employees devastated in its wake.

According to market research firm Morning Consult, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused 18% of healthcare employees to abandon their jobs and 12% to be fired. According to the same poll, 31% of the remaining healthcare professionals contemplated leaving their organization. At the same time, the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses reported that 66% of acute and critical care nurses have considered abandoning nursing altogether

These are staggering statistics, but it is no surprise that the healthcare field is experiencing a concurrent burnout epidemic. The demands on healthcare professionals today are very high, and although many people are willing to help, it seems that the needs are too high for the healthcare providers in return.

“We want to be cheering for our patients,” one nurse told The Atlantic, “but everyone I know… has lost all sympathy.” Healthcare workers across the country echo his sentiments as they struggle with emotional numbness while still wanting to provide care to those they serve, yet finding it so hard to do so.

If putting on your scrubs or lab coat these days feels as if it takes every bit of energy left in your reservoir, you may be nearing a plummet into the whirlpool of burnout. A critical factor in burnout is exhaustion. Dr. Dike Drummond, CEO of, metaphorically compares burnout to an overdrawn bank (energy) account. 

The Downward Spiral of Burnout

Colloquially, burnout is often thought of interchangeably when someone mentions “compassion fatigue” (CF). From a clinical perspective, burnout is seen as a symptom of CF. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), compassion fatigue has two critical components: burnout and secondary traumatic stress. 

The National Academy of Medicine says that at least 50% of caregivers in medical disciplines express significant burnout symptoms, including emotional tiredness, cynicism, and a poor feeling of professional success. However, burnout, along with compassion fatigue, is an occupational phenomenon that, much like depression, manages to permeate throughout your body beyond mere emotional exhaustion and stares into your soul—many times, even making you question your purpose. 

As a professional caregiver, you are constantly in contact with and interact with the lives of others. Many people and their families are indebted to you for your agile critical-thinking skills, expertise, and seemingly endless emotional capacity to deal with life-or-death situations. But it’s essential that you acknowledge how burnout could manifest. It can lead to dangerous feelings of hostility, cynicism, hopelessness, and, in some cases, suicide. 

Other warning signs of burnout may include headaches, avoidance, sadness, addiction, digestive problems, grief, nightmares, overusing sick days, feelings of dread, muscle tension, shifts in personal beliefs, disturbances in relationships at work or in private life, or inability to concentrate or feel empathy. 

Anxiety and depression, two conditions more prevalent among healthcare professionals than in the general population, can lead to suicidal thoughts. Burnout and mental exhaustion are rampant among caregivers, as one of them recently revealed in an interview with the media. She claimed to have driven into an intersection one day. 

The blaring car horns and screeching tires did nothing to drown out her racing thoughts as she sat there paralyzed by her anxiety and sadness. She prayed for someone to slam into her and put her into a coma in that split second. She wanted to be free of her emotions. She admitted to never having mental health issues but seeing a therapist was the next logical step. That day was the closest she ever wanted to get to being suicidal.

Emotional Resiliency: Not Superheroic, but Human

One psychiatrist who has recently counseled many physicians in crisis told the Washington Post it’s time to stop treating healthcare professionals like they are heroes. Of course, she was not negating or belittling sometimes miraculous and heroic acts in the medical field, especially during the pandemic. Instead, she was expressing the need for people to “start treating them like human beings.” 

To describe emotional resiliency as a means of preventing burnout is to oversimplify a severe emotional issue. Emotional resiliency allows you and other healthcare professionals to survive the emotional roller coaster in the healthcare industry. This is important for patients, the field, and your families.

Emotional resiliency is a multifaceted construct. Some mistake it for toughness. Although it is a complex concept with numerous definitions and measurement methods, it involves positive coping. Being able to cope with stress healthily is not just a critical professional skill, it is an essential life skill. An emotionally resilient person with good emotional health can handle difficult situations and recover from them quickly. 

You are likely working alongside other overworked colleagues and are burned out. It’s time to stand on the frontline of your emotional health and be your own hero. Because when the needs of caregivers aren’t met, then everyone and everything around you suffer. 

Assessing Your Level of Emotional Support Through Self-Care

According to the American Ambulance Association, self-care helps healthcare workers become more resilient by fostering meaningful relationships, reframing the way difficulties and obstacles are seen, and streamlining their daily routines. Research is continuing to confirm the effectiveness of daily self-care practices. Like eating chicken soup at the first sign of the sniffles, self-care can be the antidote for many healthcare professionals nearing burnout and other issues.

A side effect of self-care is self-efficiency, which is directly linked to a person’s ability to experience, manage, and process emotions. Since emotions tend to influence people’s thoughts and actions and impact life decisions in great and minor ways, it is crucial to have the solid emotional support necessary for maintaining daily autonomy and self-efficiency. It is essential in the healthcare field due to the increased risks of professionals experiencing vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, and burnout, among other forms of stress.

As heroic as you are for the sick and their families, there must always be an awareness maintained that you are not your title, education, certification, or responsibilities. You are a warm-blooded, feeling, and thinking human being who must take time for yourself and ask for help when you are having a difficult time.

The Final Appeal

There are many reasons why people become doctors and nurses. However, continuing to forsake yourself could end up depleting every ounce of passion, drive, and humanity that once motivated you all through school and specialized training or that gave you sunny dispositions on the cloudiest of days. Self-care is not just a buzzword. As a healthcare worker, it is a prerequisite for your well-being.

One act of self-care that can impact many of those dimensions all at once is meditation. Numerous studies have proven it to be one of the most effective stress reduction and relaxation techniques. Still, while meditation may aid people in “de-stressing” and “relaxing,” it serves a far more critical purpose. 

Meditation teaches people to become more aware of their thoughts and emotions and more compassionate, accepting, and understanding of their daily struggles. Meditation can also change a person’s relationship with themselves, others, and the natural world. This profound connection nourishes and improves emotional resiliency, which is critical for healthcare professionals in their performance and sustainability in their field.

To learn more about how Healing Breaths is helping hospitals address burnout issues and create a culture of well-being and peer-to-peer connection with data-driven, pre-post intervention measurement for efficacy, contact 628.280.6527 or