Is Working in Healthcare Bad for your Health?

08.08.19

a woman smiling for the camera

 

Kelly Brassil, PhD, RN
Director of Medical Affairs

 

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates there are close to 59 million individuals employed in the healthcare sector worldwide, of which there are over 13 million in the United States alone.  Healthcare employees are also healthcare consumers with additional occupational risks associated with their field.  Beyond the physical (e.g. slips, trips and falls), biologic (e.g. tuberculosis, hepatitis, HIV) and ergonomic (e.g. lifting) risks, there are other environmental and psychosocial factors that may present barriers for this population’s health.  Long hours, stress, sedentary work, and limited access to healthy foods (or the abundant availability of unhealthy foods) can all affect provider health.

The need to ensure a healthy workplace is imperative to the wellbeing of healthcare providers and, in turn, to those for whom they provide care. It is also a financial concern for health systems given that productivity is negatively associated with employee burnout and illness. This post marks the beginning of a series focused on healthcare employees’ barriers to wellness and to care. This series will offer solutions to improve wellness in the healthcare workplace, as well as tips for providers to overcome barriers to care when affected by an acute or chronic illness. But first –

 

Part 1: Is working in healthcare bad for your health?

It seems ironic that in a profession dedicated to improving the health of others, healthcare professionals have concerning trends in health outcomes themselves. The American Nurses Association designed the “Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation” campaign because, with the exception of smoking, nurses are less healthy than average Americans. A recent opinion piece in the New York Times highlighted that increasing demands in healthcare settings coupled with the sense of ethical obligation to complete the work on the part of providers is contributing to burnout among healthcare professionals, who also have some of the highest rates of suicide among any profession. Other health outcomes are equally concerning, including high rates of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, potentially contributed to by workplace stress and limited physical activity.  

 

What barriers to health affect healthcare providers?

Conversations on social determinants of health and occupational health hazards are typically focused on vulnerable populations, but the barriers of a health system employee can easily be understood as social determinant barriers. Beyond the physical (e.g. slips, trips and falls), biologic (e.g. tuberculosis, hepatitis, HIV) and ergonomic (e.g. lifting) risks, there are other environmental and psychosocial factors that may present barriers for this population’s health.  Long hours, stress, sedentary work, and limited access to healthy foods (or the abundant availability of unhealthy foods) can all affect provider health.

 

So what are we going to do about it?

Given that work-life balance is associated not only with health outcomes for professionals, but also with safety culture in the workplace, identifying and addressing barriers to wellness, preventative care, and treatment among health care providers is imperative to a healthy workforce and organizational productivity. 

Over the next few months, in anticipation of our upcoming presentation on healthcare employee engagement with University of Maryland Medical System at HERO Health, I’ll be breaking down evidence-based ways to address barriers to health in the provider workplace. From burnout to back injuries, to the psychology of navigating the healthcare system when the provider becomes a patient, stay tuned for the latest studies and strategies to improve healthcare employees’ health!