Health care professionals who consistently face high-stake situations in hospital emergency departments or intensive care units (ICU) are at extremely high risk for developing burnout syndrome — a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.
Burnout syndrome in critical care healthcare professionals may result in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), alcohol abuse, and suicidal thoughts.
In a new report, published by the Critical Care Societies Collaborative (CCSC), experts offer guidance on how to lower the risk of burnout. They also call for more research to better understand how to prevent and treat this often debilitating condition.
In general, burnout syndrome is a state of extreme exhaustion typically due to a demanding work schedule. Very often, it is triggered by discrepancies between the expectations and the actual requirements of the job. The condition is quite common among members of high-stress professions, such as firefighters, police officers, teachers, and all types of health-care professionals.
Critical care healthcare professionals have one of the highest rates of burnout syndrome, with nearly half of the workforce exhibiting symptoms. This can be attributed to the especially stressful work environment due to high patient morbidity and mortality, challenging daily work routines, and regular encounters with traumatic and ethical issues.
According to the report, up to 45 percent of critical care physicians reported symptoms of severe burnout syndrome, while those specializing in pediatric critical care were at 71 percent. Approximately 25 to 33 percent of critical care nurses manifest symptoms of severe burnout syndrome, and up to 86 percent have at least one of the three classic symptoms.
In nurses, burnout is associated with reduced quality of patient care, lower patient satisfaction, increased number of medical errors, higher rates of healthcare associated infections, and higher 30-day patient mortality rates.
The CCSC is a group consisting of four professional and scientific societies whose members care for America’s critically ill and injured. It aims to raise awareness about burnout syndrome in critical care medicine. Their report is a call to action that advises key stakeholder groups to help mitigate the development of burnout syndrome. Two suggested strategies include interventions focused on enhancing the ICU environment and helping individuals cope with their environment.
“With more than 10,000 critical care physicians and 500,000 critical care nurses practicing in the United States, the effects of burnout syndrome in the ICU cannot be ignored,” says Dr. Curt Sessler, senior author and immediate past president of the American College of Chest Physicians.
“We believe that protecting the mental and physical health of health care professionals who are at risk for burnout syndrome is vitally important for not only the professionals but for all stakeholders, including our patients.”