Tired woman working from home

Allied Health Clinician Burnout: 22 Tips to Mitigate Your Risk

December 24, 2020

By Debra Wood, RN, contributor

Allied health clinician burnout happens, and during this challenging time of dealing with a global pandemic, more healthcare professionals than ever are experiencing chronic workplace stress, leading to the occupational phenomenon.

“Speech-language pathologists experience the same types of stresses and therefore are vulnerable to burnout,” says Diane Paul, PhD, CCC-SLP, director of clinical issues in speech-language pathology for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Paul explained that SLPs are at risk working with COVID-19 patients who have swallowing difficulties or are unable to talk with their families and healthcare providers, such as facilitating the use of augmented and alternative communication systems, to improve patients’ health. However, even though SLPs are deemed essential, Paul said they sometimes are not receiving adequate access to resources, such as personal protective equipment, creating another stressor.

Occupational therapists often are overlooked during the pandemic, said Varleisha D. Gibbs PhD, OTD, OTR/L, vice president of practice engagement and capacity building at the American Occupational Therapy Association. However, OTs are at the bedside of COVID-19 patients, helping with positioning and engaging in daily activities.

“Those are important aspects of that patient’s care,” said Gibbs, adding OTs also may feel guilt, because they are not as at-risk as the nurses.

Physical therapists also are feeling stressed and burned out, Troy Elliott, program director of strategic messaging at the American Physical Therapy Association, wrote in the association’s magazine.

Kyle C. Mahan, MSM, RRT, assistant professor and the clinical coordinator at Jefferson Community and Technical College in Louisville, Kentucky, said professionals in his field of respiratory therapy are feeling stressed and burned out, after being exposed to so much illness and death.

In fact, anyone at the bedside has a potential for exposure to the novel coronavirus, which has increased the volume of critically ill patients, added Lisa Romano, RN, MSN, chief nursing officer at CipherHealth in New York.

“Resources are being tapped,” Romano. “And they are seeing more death in a shift than [they used to] in a year.”

Now with the end-of-year holiday stressors upon us, clinician holiday burnout can occur.

“Holidays are [hard], because we are breaking tradition,” Paul said. Normally, following a routine and honoring traditions will help decrease stress. But not this year. Hopefully, 2021 will be better.

“We know we are turning a corner,” Paul added. “The vaccine is here.”

About burnout

Burnout develops from increased workloads but also from moral distress—not being able to provide the services the patients need because the situation forbids clinicians from providing it, Paul said.

Uncertainty and loneliness have been exacerbated during the pandemic and contributes to burnout, Paul reported.

Healthcare workers, including allied professionals, are frustrated by the many people not taking the novel coronavirus seriously, not wearing masks and gathering in crowds, Romano said.

Symptoms of allied health clinician burnout include exhaustion, a lack of energy, mentally distancing oneself for the job, being negative or cynical about work and decreased efficacy, according to the World Health Organization.

22 stress management strategies for allied health professionals

Leadership at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and the American Occupational Therapy Association have developed resources to help members with stress and burnout to support allied professionals.

Among their recommendations:

• Identify red flags that might indicate burnout.
• Accept the feelings.
• Debrief with colleagues.
• Acknowledge the mind–body connection.
• Start the day with positive affirmations.
• Strive for work–life balance. Keep a schedule with time for both.
• Take care of self, including eating healthy foods, staying hydrated and getting enough sleep.
• Practice meditation, even virtually with colleagues, Paul said.
• Exercise, even Zoom classes, Paul suggested.
• Go for a walk outside. Nature is calming.
• Take breaks and time off.
• Do something fun. Make time for you.
• Cry to release the pain.
• Participate in faith community services virtually.
• Connect with others on Zoom or other platforms.
• Focus on gratitude. Keep a gratitude journal.
• Talk about the issues contributing to stress and burnout.
• Create a transition routine between the work computer and a personal device.
• Avoid listening to the news.
• Surround yourself with positive people.
• Show compassion for yourself.
• Seek professional mental health care, such as employee assistance programs, if needed.

Hospitals can help with allied health clinician burnout, including leadership rounding, with leaders listening and empathizing, Romano said.

“Leadership needs to do something about it,” Romano added. “Put programs in place to help with caregiver needs.”

Even though clinicians are experiencing stress and burnout, “SLPs have shown tremendous creativity, resilience and passion for the work,” Paul said. “It has been heartwarming and encouraging and makes me fill with pride.”


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