Continuing the Conversation: Why Organizations Need to Prioritize Mental Health

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By Arielle Straus, Public Health Analyst

Mental Health Awareness Month prompted many conversations about ways to improve our own mental health. When it comes to health care providers and clinicians, improving mental health may require a different approach. The U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory in May that highlights the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on health workers, who already faced high levels of burnout before the pandemic hit. The advisory lays out recommendations that health organizations can take to address clinician burnout.

As part of a webinar series, Karna facilitated a conversation with a large professional association of clinicians about mental health and well-being in the workplace. Formally titled “Health Professional Well-Being in the Wake of COVID: Lessons Learned and the Path Forward,” this webinar aimed to educate clinicians (and other attendees) on the drivers and consequences of (clinician) burnout, the current state of workforce well-being nationally, and the approaches to promote and optimize workplace well-being.

For this webinar, Karna worked with esteemed professor, Senior Associate Dean for Well-Being and Resilience, and Chief Wellness Officer at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Dr. Jonathan Ripp, MD, MPH. As the Chief Wellness Officer, Dr. Ripp oversees efforts to assess and provide direction for system- and individual-level interventions designed to improve well-being for all students, residents, fellows, and faculty in the Mount Sinai Health System. Dr. Ripp spoke mostly about mental health and clinician burnout. He also touched on various approaches to improve healthcare professional well-being at both the individual- and system-level – which is especially important now, post-COVID – since clinician burnout is at an all-time high.

In 2019, the World Health Organization defined burnout as “the result of chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” This was the first step toward developing evidence-based guidelines on mental well-being in the workplace. Specifically, this phenomenon is characterized by fatigue and/or feelings of energy depletion, increased mental distance and/or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy.

With this clarified, here are three things to know about Clinician Burnout:

  1. Key workplace dimensions that impact clinician burnout are workload and job demands, control and flexibility, meaning in work, work-life integration, social support and community at work, and organizational culture and values. Clinicians are more engaged and dedicated in their work when these needs are met. Without them, clinicians experience burnout and exhaustion from work.
  2. Clinician burnout impacts both professional and personal life. The consequences can be serious and include broken relationships, alcohol and substance use, depression, suicide, physician turnover, decreased productivity and professional effort, decreased patient satisfaction, decreased quality of care, and increased medical errors.
  3. With the negative side effects of clinician burnout having such a high impact on organizational efficiency and productivity, Dr. Ripp’s number one recommendation is to consider hiring a Wellness Officer. This person would research, report, and communicate initiatives that address and improve well-being in the workplace.

Overall, this webinar was extremely informative and timely – as May was Mental Health Awareness month and clinician mental health is often overlooked. Since burnout is highly associated with poor mental health, and clinicians are experiencing workplace stress at a higher rate post-COVID, it is increasingly important to continue to have conversations and look for opportunities to improve workplace well-being.

If you are interested in learning more about Mental Health Awareness, check out our recent blog post here!

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