EMS is rife with barriers to health, wellness and happiness – among them long shifts, lack of sleep, the potential for on-the-job injury and post-traumatic stress. And struggling providers don’t suffer alone. Their stress can easily project onto colleagues, friends and family members at home.
Pair these stressors with a murky career path and limited options for professional growth, and it’s difficult to navigate a long career in EMS without a plan to prevent one of the most significant growing issues within the industry: provider burnout.
Prevalence of burnout in EMS
Researchers from the AMA and Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis surveyed 20,947 providers from 42 healthcare organizations across the U.S. in 2020 to assess their stress during the pandemic. They found 49% of respondents self-reported burnout, with 43% suffering from work overload and 38% experiencing anxiety or depression. Stress scores were highest women, Black and Latinx healthcare workers.
Those who felt valued by their organizations – 46% of respondents – had a 40% lower chance of experiencing burnout than those who don’t feel valued.
In the 2021 EMS Trend Report, less than ¼ of respondents reported they have “joy in work and no symptoms of burnout. The vast majority of respondents reported increased stress and reduced energy, and at least some symptoms of burnout.
Webinar: Protecting family and relationship health
Repair burnout by reconnecting with loved ones and mitigating the impact of the job on your family and relationships
Replenishing resources to overcome the symptoms of burnout
While not classified as a medical condition, the World Health Organization does include burnout in the ICD-11 chapter on factors influencing health status as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” WHO identified three distinct symptoms of burnout:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
- Reduced professional efficacy
Researchers Heng and Schabram expanded on these symptoms in their findings, published in the Harvard Business Review and Academy of Management Journal. Heng and Schabram note burnout symptoms stem from a lack of resources, which can be remedied through replenishment:
- Exhaustion is a depletion of mental or physical resources, which can be mediated by “re-energizing acts of self-care,” (e.g., meditation, cooking a nice meal or even taking a nap), they write.
- Cynical detachment, on the other hand, is a depletion of social connectedness, which Heng and Schabram recommend combatting by being kind to others (e.g., offering words of encouragement or taking a coworker out for lunch).
- A reduced sense of efficacy – a depletion of value for oneself – can be approached through both self-compassion (e.g., completing a project or exercising) and compassion for others (e.g., comforting a coworker), they found.
Heng and Schabram note there is hope for those suffering symptoms of burnout, and compassion is like a muscle that can be exhausted, but strengthened through training – be it breath training, appreciation exercises or yoga. Additionally, they found that organizational practices to reduce burnout are helpful, but individuals must feel empowered to take control of their own wellness to break free of burnout.
EMS Burnout Repair Kit
To help agencies, leaders and providers mitigate the primary sources of burnout, EMS1 is producing a multi-part webinar series, sponsored by Zoll. This series will provide strategies for individuals at all levels to help them emerge as better, happier and more complete.
Visit the EMS Burnout Repair Kit to learn more about the symptoms of burnout, to download an upcoming eBook packed with strategies to overcome burnout, and to register for these webinars, presented by industry experts on mental health and wellness:
In this installment, presenters will tackle the correlation between mental and spiritual health and burnout, and how mental health support programs, from EAPs that understand the needs of providers, to EMS chaplaincy, to peer support teams, can create psychologically healthy workplaces. Watch the on-demand webinar.
In this installment, our presenters tackle re-entry tips for interacting with family members after a difficult shift; communication; and tips for minimizing the impact of busy, unorthodox schedules and stress on our family members. Learn more.
3. Achieving career longevity through physical wellness
In this installment, our presenters will explain how to implement a program to improve members’ nutrition and physical health, and demonstrate exercises to improve mindfulness and reduce stress.
4. Career health: Creating a path to professional growth
In this installment, a panel comprised of individuals representing different career paths in EMS will discuss the options available, resources for career advancement as well as career resiliency, and how to find the path that is right for you.