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Today’s health care employee: Underpaid, underappreciated, and exhausted


Many medical professionals see an industry in crisis with no solutions in sight

Despite COVID becoming less of an issue, the health care industry is still struggling with a multitude of problems, according to a survey from Tebra. Medical professionals are caught in an industry crisis that affects both workers and patients.

Health care workers are burned out: ©Wichayada

Health care workers are burned out: ©Wichayada

A survey of more than 500 medical professionals found the following:

  • California, Texas, and Georgia reported the most critical staffing shortages in the past year
  • 35% of health care workers have seen a co-worker fall asleep during a shift
  • 73% of health care workers feel underpaid, and 59% feel unappreciated at work
  • 77% of health care workers believe a health care crisis will occur within the next year due to understaffing and employee burnout
  • One in three health care workers plan to leave their job within the next year, and 14% plan to leave the industry entirely

Exhaustion and lack of sleep is prevalent in health care, with more than one in three saying they made a mistake on the job because of it. Respondents said they had misinterpreted/miscommunicated patient information (21%), administered the wrong medication or dosage (16%), or failed to respond to a patient emergency (11%) due to exhaustion. In addition, 40% of health care workers also witnessed an overtired colleague make a mistake, almost 80% of survey participants reported difficulty concentrating, and 67% expressed an increased likelihood of making mistakes.

The lack of sleep is also affecting workers’ ability to respond to patients’ emotional needs while negatively affecting their own. Close to 60% of participants reported increased impatience or irritability, and 37% said exhaustion affected their sense of empathy and emotional intelligence, while 40% reported a worsening sense of depression.

Short-staffing is also a common problem in health care, with 60% of health care workers reporting their facilities don’t have enough staff.

Combined, all these problems point to a growing crisis that health care workers fear could get worse if things don’t change, and their satisfaction is suffering as a result. According to the report, 73% of those surveyed felt underpaid, 59% felt unappreciated at work, and 35% said morale was low at their workplace.

The solutions, according to respondents, included:

  1. Improving compensation by increasing pay and benefits
  2. Hiring more staff to reduce workload and stress
  3. Offering more flexible scheduling for a better work-life balance
  4. Providing more opportunities for breaks and rest at work

The report notes that unless workplace changes are made quickly, 77% of health care workers fear a health care crisis within the next year due to critical issues such as understaffing and employee burnout.

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Jennifer N. Lee, MD, FAAFP
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health