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Burnout in health care: Surgeon general issues report

tired nurse
Photo: gorodenkoff/iStockphoto

Washington — Burnout among health care workers could make it more difficult for patients to get the care they need, cause a rise in the cost of care, worsen health disparities and weaken the ability to prepare for the next public health emergency.

That’s according to a recent advisory report on health worker burnout from Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Academy of Medicine reported that burnout among health workers was at “crisis levels,” with 35%-54% of nurses and physicians reporting symptoms of burnout, along with up to 60% of medical students and residents.

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, health workers faced major challenges,” Murthy says in a corresponding video posted online. “Health workers have sacrificed so much during these last few years, sometimes even their own lives.”


Among health workers, the consequences of burnout can include insomnia, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, isolation, anxiety, depression, exhaustion, and substance use and misuse, along with relationship challenges.

Burnout can occur when health care systems lack good care coordination and human-centered technology, offer minimal leadership support, fail to manage excessive workloads and work hours, and have a disconnect between values and key decisions.

Murthy says health care employers need to:

  • Protect workers’ health and safety by addressing workplace violence and unsafe working conditions.
  • Expand access to mental health services.
  • Reduce workplace burdens to increase time workers spend with patients.

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