Surgeon general: Bold change needed to address burnout in health care

Murthy offers five areas of transformation.

The United States needs “bold, fundamental change” to address burnout in physicians and other health care workers, said U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA.

On July 14, Murthy published five recommendations for systemic measures to heal the nation’s healers. The editorial, “Confronting Health Worker Burnout and Well-being,” in the New England Journal of Medicine was a follow-up to Murthy’s advisory, “Addressing Health Worker Burnout,” published May 23.

With a number of causes, burnout was a crisis before the COVID-19 pandemic, Murthy said. The nation now faces shortages of health care workers as current ones leave the profession, creating a threat to America’s health and economic security, he said.

Murthy’s recommendations in the editorial are:

  • Value and protect health workers. “That means ensuring that they receive a living wage, access to health insurance, and adequate sick leave.”
  • Reduce administrative burdens, including reduced requirements for prior authorizations, human-centered design for electronic health records, and elimination of inefficient work.
  • Increase access to mental health care for health workers. They may be having difficulty accessing care due to lack of health insurance coverage, too few mental health providers, and lack of schedule flexibility for visits.
  • Strengthen public investments in the workforce and public health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced $3 billion in upcoming grant programs – the type of investment needed.
  • Build a culture that supports well-being. Training institutions, leadership, and licensing bodies all must “break the traditional silence surrounding the suffering of health workers.”