Healthcare Opinion

3 key ingredients to preventing burnout in the healthcare sector


Melo Calarco suggests three ingredients to prevent burnout in healthcare workers: self-awareness, self-regulation and consistent self-care.

While in Australia, healthcare workers during the last year/s are uncovering high rates of anxiety (59.8%), burnout (70.9%) and depression (57.3%) “while nearly 79% of primary care nurses who participated in a February 2022 survey reported having felt burnt out”.

It is ironic that the highest incidences of burnout are among the industries that care about the well-being of others. I personally coach many people in the healthcare sector and I find it amazing that they spend their whole career caring for others and often do not make time for their own self-care which consequently may lead to burnout.

Some of the key reasons behind this are the combination of demanding workload, emotional fatigue, lack of resources and high expectations which can all make healthcare workers more prone to burnout.

Demanding workload: Healthcare workers often do shift work and/or very long hours in high-stress environments with significant responsibilities. They may be responsible for making critical decisions that can have a significant impact on the lives of their patients which can be emotionally draining and mentally exhausting.

Emotional fatigue: Workers are required to consistently provide emotional support and empathy to their patients, which can take a toll on their emotional well-being. They may also experience compassion fatigue from consistently witnessing their patients’ suffering and hardship.

Lack of resources: Workers may feel overworked and undervalued if they are not given the necessary resources to do their job effectively. This can include understaffed, outdated equipment, and insufficient support. Staffing has been an increased problem after the recent pandemic which puts additional pressure on them.

High expectations: Healthcare workers are often high achievers wanting to provide high-quality care consistently, which can lead to feelings of pressure and anxiety. When trying to meet these high expectations (from themselves and others), they often neglect their own self-care practices to the detriment of their own well-being.

I was recently conducting a virtual Zoom coaching session from home with a surgeon who was so exhausted after an 80hr shift that he fell asleep during the meditation part of the session. I could not wake him up, so I went upstairs to have dinner. I came back down to check on him, but he was still asleep, so I went back up to put the children to bed. He slept for nearly 3hrs from sheer exhaustion. We joked about it later, but this is a sign he was depleted and heading towards burnout. He is not alone, unfortunately, I meet many healthcare workers and medical professionals on the verge of burnout and many of them are not even aware of it.

The good news is, burnout can be prevented with a few key strategies and among other techniques that I share, here are the three key ingredients to prevent burnout from happening in the first place:

Ingredient One: SELF-AWARENESS

“You can’t change what you don’t notice” Often healthcare workers and medical professionals work in highly stressful and reactive environments where they are constantly reacting and changing tasks throughout their day. This can be overwhelming and exhausting by the end of a long shift which leaves them feeling depleted.

Therefore, the very first step to preventing burnout is to develop a deeper sense of self-awareness as it underpins everything you do, from managing your own energy and stress levels to the way you operate and being aware of the choices you make throughout the day.

With deep self-awareness, you are able to adapt to different situations, manage your stress levels, and take measures to ‘nip stress in the bud’ before it progresses to burnout. You are able to be aware of when it’s time to take a break or work more proactively instead of reactively.

Ingredient two: SELF-REGULATION

After you have become more self-aware of when you are under stress or feeling fatigued, then the next step is developing the ability to self-regulate. In terms of stress management and preventing burnout, developing the capacity to self-regulate is very important.

Everyday stressors are normal and as long as you manage them on a daily basis or even an hourly basis, it will not turn into chronic stress. This could be taking a renewal break when needed, going out for some fresh air, making a cup of tea, or doing some mindful meditation or breathwork. Anything that takes you out of the reactive stress mode and helps you self-regulate at the moment will be beneficial for you.

I often teach 90-second breath breaks as a tool to help you refocus on the present moment and deactivate the stress response. This involves pausing and actively focusing on your breath for around 90 seconds to reset your focus and attention. I get thanked endlessly for teaching this technique to my clients, many say it is a ‘game changer’ in how they manage their stress on a daily basis. Try it out!  

Ingredient three: CONSISTENT SELF-CARE

I know basic self-care is common sense but unfortunately, it is not always common practice. Often the very thing you need the most like exercise, healthy food, sleep and renewal breaks are the first thing you let go of when you get stressed and busy.

However, to perform at your best as a healthcare worker or medical professional your consistent self-care should be non-negotiable. Set up your self-care practices so you can make them a habit every day and make them not negotiable, perhaps first thing in the morning before you get hijacked by your busyness. The two key words here are ‘consistency’ and ‘non-negotiable’, ask yourself what you can do daily to improve your self-care.

With these three key ingredients of self-awareness, self-regulation and consistent self-care, you can thrive in your role as a healthcare worker or medical professional without the risk of burning out. I know you know this already and you probably advise others about similar topics, but you must make yourself a priority, so you can then care better for others and continue doing your meaningful work.

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Melo Calarco, author of Beating Burnout-Finding Balance, is a mindfulness and high-performance expert, keynote speaker and corporate programs facilitator. His work has helped many CEO’s, leaders, corporate executives, surgeons and other medical professionals, elite athletes and other high performers to build resilience and perform at their absolute best, without burning out. Find out more

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