Updated May 3, 2023 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on burnout in the health care workforce

On Wednesday, May 3, Axios health care editor Tina Reed and health care policy reporter Maya Goldman hosted conversations exploring ways to address burnout and improve mental health in the health care workforce. Guests included Rep. Jen Kiggans (R-VA) and Johns Hopkins School of Nursing dean and professor Sarah L. Szanton. The View from the Top sponsored segment featured UnitedHealth Group senior vice president of the center for clinician advancement Mary Jo Jerde and American Nurses Association Board of Directors director at large Amy K. McCarthy.

Rep. Jen Kiggans discussed the causes of rampant burnout among nurses and potential policies to alleviate health care worker shortages.

  • On difficult working conditions for nurses: “I think nurses leave jobs because they are overworked, a lot of times they’re tired. We’ve asked so much of them. They’re overworked and sometimes they’re underpaid. And that’s why I’ve left jobs in the past…we hear about nurses leaving the workforce now, we need to think about the quality of life for our nursing workforce.”
  • On advanced practice nurses and independent practice authority: “That’s something we’ve come a long way in Virginia. We have some avenues for independent practice authority. I’d like to see all 50 states provide those avenues because there are many nurse practitioners who can practice autonomously and who have lots of experience, sometimes more than the physicians and their health care staff.”

Sarah L. Szanton explained how structural and systemic factors contribute to burnout.

  • On pushing back on the stigma surrounding the word ‘burnout’: “I might argue just a little bit with the term or turn it around a little bit, because burnout tends to sound like an individual issue and there are broad structural and systemic factors that lead to more burnout. So when someone is burnt out, it’s as though they have symptoms of depression and other things that are very individual and impact that individual and their family. But we like to talk about the structural and systemic factors, such as there not being enough nurses, for example, on a unit or in a clinic or in a school or in a prison, for example.”
  • On increasing flexibility for nurses: “Traditionally over the last 40, 50 years nurses have tended to work three 12 hour shifts sometime throughout the week, and that works well for a lot of people. But for other people they might want several four hour shifts, or they might want some of them virtual or maybe two of them are in the emergency room and one is in a school. Thinking about the rest of the workforce in the country is going through having much more flexibility, much more adaptability. Nurses should be able to do that too.”

In the View from the Top segment, Mary Jo Jerde highlighted her past experiences as a nurse and recalled never talking about burnout.

  • “My experience in the past has been you never talked about it. I had no support system, I didn’t even have the internet when I was a new nurse as a director of nursing of a large facility, going back to school, a new mom. And all I had as a support was my other sisters who too were nurses. But what’s different now and what I see, my experience of what I’m hopeful for is we now are talking about it. We have support systems within their organizations across the country.”

Thank you UnitedHealth Foundation for sponsoring this event.

Go deeper