US Surgeon General Report Highlights Urgent Need to Address Health Care Worker Burnout

Advocate Masthead

ACP is very supportive of the report, offers several resources to help members alleviate burnout

June 17, 2022 (ACP) — The U.S. Surgeon General issued a landmark report about the burnout threat facing the nation's medical professionals, and the American College of Physicians is pleased this widespread problem is getting the attention it deserves.

“We must take action to promote the mental health and well-being of our nation's frontline health care workers. We're in the midst of a public health emergency, and a burned-out workforce is a threat to quality medical care for every one of us,” said Dr. Cynthia “Daisy” Smith, ACP chief membership and engagement officer. “The stakes are very high for us as a nation.”

The report, released on May 23 by Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in conjunction with Mental Health Awareness Month, highlights negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on health care workers who already were facing burnout prior to the pandemic. “His main message is that there's an urgent need to address the health care worker crisis among physicians, nurses, community and public health workers, nurse aides and others,” Smith said.

The report provides specific recommendations for health care organizations, health insurers, health technology companies, policymakers, academic institutions, researchers and communities to address burnout among health care workers and ensure their well-being. “These recommended actions are designed to help health care workers thrive and better answer their call as healers,” Smith said. “He makes the case that the time is now to provide real support and systemic change to allow us to continue to serve patients.”

Here are some of the recommendations:

  • Eliminate punitive policies for seeking mental health and substance use disorder care.
  • Protect the health, safety and well-being of all health care workers via living wages, manageable workloads, adequate staff and protection from workplace violence.
  • Reduce administrative burdens so health care workers have increased productive time with patients, communities and colleagues.
  • Prioritize social connection and community as core values of the health care system through peer support and team-based care.
  • Invest in public health and the public health workforce.

ACP, which was invited to provide comments and feedback on a draft of the surgeon general's report, is pleased by its calls for action. ACP supports changing licensing and credentialing questions to not ask about mental health-seeking behavior; increasing access to high-quality mental health support for physicians; getting rid of unnecessary and burdensome administrative work; improving reimbursement for asynchronous and non-direct patient care work by physicians; optimizing physician-led team-based care; embracing reasonable workloads and redundant staffing models to allow for respite and sick time; and making concrete changes to ensure the safety of the health care workforce.

Moving forward, Smith said, “ACP is committed to taking action to ensure the ongoing health and well-being of internal medicine physicians and their teams, and we're committed to providing and connecting our members with resources and communities to support them and help them thrive throughout their internal medicine careers.”

ACP has many resources to help its members. Members can visit the ACP Physician Well-being and Professional Fulfillment section. The newer I.M. Emotional Support Hub connects ACP members with confidential, vetted, free and low-cost counseling and peer support resources.

Members can also review the ACP Patients Before Paperwork initiative and visit the Advocacy Toolkit on addressing rising workplace violence against physicians and health care workers. ACP also has an advocacy toolkit on revising license and credentialing applications to refrain from asking about mental health.

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Back to the June 17, 2022 issue of ACP Advocate