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May 5, 2022  |  Lynn Schear

The Health of Healthcare Workers: Addressing the challenges

Clinical working conditions have always been challenging for healthcare workers, even prior to the pandemic. It comes with the territory of a high–stress job where people’s health and lives are on the line every single day.

A healthcare role often requires long hours on the job and an unpredictable schedule, including on–call work and double shifts. While in the clinic or at the hospital, healthcare workers face demanding physical work that can pose a risk of injury and hazardous working conditions when exposed to sick patients with infectious diseases.

From an emotional standpoint, many people who choose a career in healthcare have great compassion for others. This makes them ideal for a healing or caregiving role, but it also means they feel deeply about their patients and their work. Healthcare workers take on the human component of sympathy for the sick, which can contribute to stress levels. They may also deal with emotional pressures from family members and friends – both their patients’ and their own.

Straddling the line of work and life presents a constant challenge. A sense of balance can feel elusive, and time for self–care can feel impossible. Add in significant debt from medical school, graduate programs and training on top of it all – and it’s no wonder healthcare workers often struggle with burnout and stress.

Putting the well–being of others before themselves in the face of a pandemic

COVID–19 has affected all of our lives, but healthcare workers had to step up and fight on the front line. The pandemic exacerbated many already prevalent challenges in their day–to–day work.

As COVID–19 cases skyrocketed, doctors, nurses and other providers took on extended hours and an ever–growing workload. This only got worse as healthcare workers got sick themselves and short staffing became an issue. The high demand for personal protective equipment caused a shortage of gloves, masks, gowns and other important safety items, and healthcare workers had to get creative when their clinics and hospitals ran short of medical equipment and space for patients.

Beyond these issues of time and space, the emotional toll has been crippling. Healthcare personnel had to cope with increased anxiety from an influx of patients and not enough space, staffing or supplies to care for them. A Mental Health America survey of healthcare workers in 2020 showed the profound emotional effects of the pandemic:

  • 93% of health care workers were experiencing stress
  • 86% reported experiencing anxiety
  • 77% reported frustration
  • 76% reported exhaustion and burnout
  • 75% said they were overwhelmed

Doing their job meant constantly risking their own health with exposure to a highly infectious – and relatively unknown – virus. At home, they worried about exposing their loved ones and faced insomnia that only exacerbated their mental health issues. Even as case counts retreated, many healthcare workers continued to carry the burden of post–traumatic stress disorder.

Providing systemic change & erasing the stigma of asking for help

According to the MHA survey, 39% of healthcare workers reported that they did not feel like they had adequate emotional support. Nurses were even less likely to have emotional support (45%).

Historically, there’s been a strong stigma around healthcare workers seeking care for mental health and/or substance abuse disorders. Health systems and society as a whole have an opportunity to make changes that support the health of our healthcare workers – mentally, physically and professionally.

What steps can we take? First, it’s important to remember that healthcare workers are fellow human beings, not invincible superheroes. They do incredible, lifesaving work, but they too need rest, care and support in order to thrive on the job and at home.

Ongoing preventive measures are crucial. Everyone deserves to have time for basic needs like nutritious meals, fresh air, exercise and adequate sleep. Proactive interventions, such as free lunches, higher pay and supportive materials, offer a mood booster and show recognition of hard work.

Healthcare workers should also be encouraged to practice self–care – time for being with loved ones, creative interests, spa treatments, outdoor activities or special hobbies. The most effective form of self–care will depend on the individual, but whatever the activity, it allows them to relax and recharge.

Hospitals should take the onus for their staff’s mental health with psychological first aid in times of crisis, heavy workloads and more. They can also commit to providing long–term support through mental health support programs and courses, such as WHO’s Self–Help Plus stress management intervention program. Offering this type of support helps break the stigma of mental health issues and builds a more supportive workplace culture.

Investing in the well–being of healthcare professionals

Beyond the clinic, world leaders and other healthcare decision–makers need to be cognizant of the crucial importance and value of investing in the mental health and well–being of healthcare professionals – on individual, organizational and societal levels.

Marketers have a unique opportunity to help by providing solutions to these stressful challenges. It starts with connecting with healthcare decision–makers to offer tools and resources that support their staff. MCH’s up–to–date, affordable healthcare data makes it possible to identify and reach the right people within hospitals, outpatient centers and healthcare systems.

Supporting the health of our healthcare workers has a powerful ripple effect in our communities. It ensures that they have what they need to continue making a difference for the greater good.

If you missed our previous healthcare blog, check out 5 of the Biggest Healthcare Trends for 2022: What’s shaping healthcare now and moving forward.



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