As the United States enters its second pandemic winter, the health care industry continues to be challenged by the complex and changing conditions of COVID-19.
Many hospitals around the country are still battling surges in cases, and a few states are seeing record numbers of infections and hospital admissions. An already beleaguered workforce is facing a new wave of stressors: persistent vaccine hesitancy, public debates regarding vaccine mandates, high-profile attacks on health care workers, moral distress surrounding the care of critically ill unvaccinated patients, and critical staffing shortages.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the American Medical Association has been partnering with health systems, hospitals, and practices around the country to measure the impact of COVID-19 on the well-being of their staff using the “Coping with COVID-19 for Caregivers” survey.
Launched in April 2020, this free survey has equipped leaders at over 85 institutions across 29 states to gauge levels of anxiety and burnout, feelings of value, and intention to leave among their clinical and non-clinical staff. Nationwide, over 64,000 respondents of various work roles have completed the survey, yielding the following key learnings:
- Fear of exposing themselves and their families to COVID-19 is greatest among nurses and clinical support staff and lowest among physicians. The nursing profession has been largely exempt from telework options during the pandemic, placing nurses consistently at the frontline of COVID-19 care. While all team members may benefit from additional training and resources, nurses need to feel that their organizations are prioritizing their safety.
- Thirty-six percent of all respondents report feeling anxiety and depression to a great or moderate extent. The highest levels of anxiety and depression are reported by nurses and clinical support staff. Only 20% of residents and fellows and 29% of physicians reported no anxiety and depression. Anxiety and depression are affecting all members of the health care team. Peer support groups, crisis support lines and other interventions need to be tailored to the specific needs of different team members.
- Twenty-six percent of all respondents report at least one symptom of burnout. Organizations must identify the systemic issues that contribute to workplace stress and develop new workflow protocols, EHR enhancements and novel peer-support groups. They must equip individuals across all levels of the organization with more effective leadership skills.
- Feeling valued by an institution is protective against stress, but 15% of physicians, 22% of nurses, and 25% of clinical support staff report feeling “not at all” valued. There is great opportunity for leadership to develop strategies to recognize and appreciate team members, including establishing awards and recognitions, instituting town halls and listening sessions, leadership rounding and pay bonuses.
- Twenty-seven percent of respondents note a moderate, likely or definite chance of reducing clinical hours in the next 12 months, and 28% of respondents note a moderate, likely or definite chance that they will leave their current practice in the next two years. The numbers were 33% and 38%, respectively, among nurses, and 31% and 25%, respectively, among physicians. This degree of workforce flux will create significant challenges for the health care industry. Organizations must understand the specific factors leading to workforce loss and establish targeted responses.
Leadership in the current environment is more complex and critical than ever. In a time of widespread anxiety, depression, and burnout in health care when so many team members plan to reduce or leave their current practice, ensuring that everyone feels they are a valued member of the care team is essential. Addressing the needs of today’s health care workforce requires thoughtful and humble leaders that are willing to listen to their physicians, nurses and staff, and to meet them where they are. Leaders must recognize the special concerns of frontline clinicians, support personnel and graduate medical trainees, and create action plans that engage each in sustainable workflow, environment and culture change.
The AMA can help. The AMA partners with health systems not only to survey their staff and understand their results, but also to design and implement strategies that target broad industry trends and unique institutional circumstances. The AMA Health System Program offers priority access to organizational well-being resources and services to enhance workplace culture, and it provides partners with concierge support to optimize engagement. In addition, the AMA Insight Network convenes leaders for networking, peer feedback, pilot opportunities, and the sharing of innovations and ideas. As a partner and coach, the AMA chronicles the journeys and celebrates the successes of our member health systems through storytelling and spotlighting.
To learn more ways the AMA can support your efforts to improve organizational well-being please visit ama-assn.org/EnhanceWellBeing.