Volume 37 Number 5 | October 2023
Lucinda Utz, MS, MLS(ASCP)CM
Burnout among healthcare workers has been a known concern for many years, but it has primarily been studied in providers and nurses working the front lines of critical care and emergency medicine. With the arrival of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, it became even more apparent and exacerbated within the healthcare community. With all of the changes and increased demands that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems logical to assume that burnout was experienced by many individuals working within various departments in the healthcare setting, especially clinical laboratory sciences. Does this mean that medical laboratory professionals did not experience burnout prior to COVID? Or did it take a global pandemic to finally acknowledge that there are limitations to the stressors a person can experience while working without adequate accommodations and support?
As noted in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, six different organizational domains were identified to have an effect on whether a person is likely to experience burnout. These include an unsustainably demanding workload, lack of control, insufficient effort-to-reward ratio, no supportive community, unfairness within the system, and conflict between the values and skills of workers (Maslach, Leiter, and Jackson, 2012).
For many years, practicing self-care was the only identified means for dealing with emotional depletion in the workplace. Practicing more of these techniques has been shown to provide many benefits to individuals dealing with burnout, but it does little to address the root causes of the concern. In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) provided a more descript definition of burnout that went into effect beginning January 2022. WHO now classifies burnout as a syndrome that develops when chronic workplace stressors are inadequately managed and often presents itself over three phases: feeling emotional exhaustion with the work, cynicism toward one’s job, and not feeling a sense of accomplishment about their performance (World Health Organization [WHO], 2022). With the new classification, organizations now bear more responsibility of helping their employees handle and manage these occupational stressors.
According to a 2020 survey of over 4,000 medical laboratory science professionals conducted by the American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP) on job satisfaction, half of those who responded reported feeling a lot of stress related to understaffing and workload demands, interactions with coworkers, lack of control over their schedule, not feeling compensated adequately for the work they perform, nor feeling valued and appreciated as professionals by their organization. Another study conducted of over 400 medical laboratory technologists in Ontario, Canada, found similar results to the ASCP survey regarding occupational factors that were reported with increased burnout (Nowrouzi-Kia, Dong, Gohar, and Hoad, 2022). As noted, this survey identifies the need for organizations to make advancements and invest in their employees’ mental health and well-being, especially if they want to attract and retain more graduates from accredited programs to fill the pending vacancies due to high levels of retirement (Garcia, Kundu, Kelly, Soles, Mulder, and Talmon, 2020).
What should organizations do to address this growing concern in the clinical laboratory sciences? Education and awareness about the concern are the first steps that need to be taken. As referenced in Wilson (2022), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has allocated over a million dollars for organizations to invest in the mental health and wellness of their workers and address the apparent healthcare staffing crisis. These funds are intended to pay for evidence-based programs aimed at alleviating burnout. Mindfulness-based stress reduction activities with teams, ensuring mental health services are readily available, and creating opportunities to build up resilience in employees would be beneficial. Promoting respectful interactions among coworkers and reducing the reliance of work being performed with overtime are a couple other avenues that should be pursued to help mitigate some of the burnout experienced (Wilson, 2022). As Houtrow (2020) explains, these approaches to addressing burnout are important for the short-term, but we have to be able to treat the disease and not just address the symptoms. Healthcare providers, health insurers, hospital administrators, regulators, policy makers, and the public will need to collectively agree and realign their goals to make any effective change, and the top priority should be the needs and care of the patient (Houtrow, 2020).
The last few years during the pandemic have been a collective trauma experienced by people all over the world. Your mental health and well-being are paramount for your survival. Know that everyone struggles, and there is no shame in that feeling or seeking help. You are important and worth the investment. If you or someone you know may be struggling, resources are available, such as the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357). In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists various tips for identifying and coping with burnout in the healthcare setting.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2023, April 27). Mental health: Support for public health workers and health professionals. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/public-health-workers/index.html
- Garcia, E., Kundu, I., Kelly, M., Soles, R., Mulder, L., & Talmon, G.A. (2020, April). The American Society for Clinical Pathology’s Job Satisfaction, Well-Being, and Burnout Survey of Laboratory Professionals. American Journal of Clinical Pathology, 153(4), 470-486. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcp/aqaa008
- Houtrow, A. (2020, Sept.). Addressing Burnout: Symptom Management Versus Treating the Cause. The Journal of Pediatrics, 224, 18-19. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpeds.2020.04.068
- Maslach, C., Leiter, M. & Jackson, S.E. (2012). Making a significant difference with burnout interventions: Researcher and practitioner collaboration. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 33, 296-300. Doi: 10.1002/job.784
- Nowrouzi-Kia, B., Dong, J., Gohar, B., & Hoad, M. (2022, March 20). Factors associated with burnout among medical laboratory professionals in Ontario, Canada: An exploratory study during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The International Journal of Health Planning and Management, 37(4): 2183-2197. Doi: 10.1002/hpm.3460
- World Health Organization. (2022). QD85 Burnout. In International statistical classification of diseases and related health problems (11th, ed.). Retrieved from https://icd.who.int/browse11/l-m/en#/http://id.who.int/icd/entity/129180281
- Wilson, L. (2022, March 23). Talking about burnout in the lab. Medical Laboratory Observer. Retrieved from https://www.mlo-online.com/home/article/21260764/talking-aboutburnout-in-the-lab
Lucinda Utz is Lead Medical Technologist in the Hospital Core Lab at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida.