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Well-Being at Work: The Toll of Stress on the Healthcare Work Force


Dr. Heather Farley M.D., MHCDS, FACEP, Chief Wellness Officer


It’s an often-overlooked truth: When the physician is unwell, eventually patient care will suffer. Healthcare facilities tend to be among the highest-stress work environments of any profession-right up there with nuclear power plants and heavy construction sites-putting doctors, nurses and other clinicians at constant risk. Without a wellness plan in place to counteract this stressful environment, healthcare workers face high rates of burnout, which could lead to significant consequences for patients.

A Look at the Numbers

The effects of a high-stress environment on healthcare workers can often be measured in how that stress affects them. Consider the following:

Consequences of Workplace Stress

The high stress of the healthcare environment has broader consequences than just the toll it takes on the workers themselves. Clinicians who are burned out tend to make more errors, which could result in serious repercussions for patients. Even when medical error is not involved, patients tend to be less satisfied and less comfortable when their caregivers are showing signs of fatigue and burnout. Healthcare organizations also experience a significant financial impact when they don’t take steps to reduce stress in the workplace. Healthcare workers who are not thriving tend to leave, creating higher turnover. And patients who leave dissatisfied will go elsewhere the next time they need care.

Providing Wellness in the Workplace

Many healthcare organizations recognize the stressors inherent in providing care and are taking steps to improve wellness in their staff. In many cases, these efforts are geared toward encouraging better personal wellness habits-eat better, get more sleep, meditate, etc. These are all wonderful solutions, but they don’t go far enough to address the problem. For maximum effectiveness, healthcare organizations and other high-stress workplaces must try to create a culture of wellness in the workplace itself. At Christiana Care, we have adopted a three-pronged approach to improving workplace wellness:

  1. Personal resilience-encouraging self-care among caregivers, including the examples given above, and providing education and resources to help them.
  2. Efficiency of practice-developing systems that deliver what patients need while removing impediments to joy in the workplace. For example, enabling clinicians to focus on patient care rather than paperwork.
  3. Culture of wellness-creating a workplace of camaraderie, peer support and leadership support to empower workers.

While personal resilience can’t be overlooked, it’s only one part of an effective strategy for wellness. In fact, our research shows that 80% of professional fulfillment can predicted by cultures of wellness and efficiency of practice.

Christiana Care’s Center for Provider Wellbeing is a national leader at the forefront of developing strategies to create a culture of wellness and address stress in the workplace. To learn more, visit https://christianacare.org/providerwellbeing.

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