National Public Health Week is the perfect time to reflect on the importance of our public health workforce. This dedicated group of individuals is essential to our future, and they are currently facing many challenges. Burnout, exhaustion, and job-related harassment are just a few of the issues that have been exacerbated recently. Underpayment, student loan debt, stress, and abuse from patients are just a few examples of the challenges public health workers face. According to a study done by the National Public Health Week, 60% of public health workers reported symptoms of mental distress. These same workers also report high levels of job-related burnout and exhaustion. This is due in part to the fact that they are constantly having to deal with implicit bias and cultural competency. It is essential that we have a diverse public health workforce to serve our diverse communities.
From 2012 to 2019, the state health workforce decreased by almost 10%, with a decrease of over 20% in some states. These decreases were before the pandemic began. The national public health workforce has also been declining, even as the population has increased and health needs have become more complex. The pandemic has only made these challenges worse.
The Healthcare Frontline
The abuse of health frontline workers is a Public Health Crisis, yet we know that health care worker burnout is a national problem. In a recent survey of over 500 public health workers, nearly 60% said they had symptoms of burnout, such as feeling exhausted, disconnected from their work, and unable to meet the demands of their job.
The 2020 Medscape National Physician Burnout and Suicide Report reported a burnout rate of about 43%, which remains quite similar to the 46% reported in 2015 and 39.8% in 2013. This is a national crisis that must be addressed. Further to the point, disparities exist concerning which individuals or groups carry the burden of such demands. Furthermore, because of patriarchal gender roles imposed on women, family responsibilities are frequently gendered. Low-wage employees, who are mostly female people of color in the healthcare industry, also have more strenuous job obligations, including double shifts and forced overtime. Single parents, in particular single mothers of color, face a variety of forms of oppression connected with their gender, race, and single-parent status that exacerbate the difficulties of balancing motherhood and employment. (source)
How to Support Healthcare Frontline Workers
We need to do more to support our public health workforce. We must advocate for diversity within the public health workforce and for training that addresses implicit bias and cultural competency. We must invest in our public health workforce so that they have the resources they need to do their jobs.
If you're a healthcare worker who is experiencing burnout or job-related harassment, please know that you are not alone. Here are some resources that may be able to help:
-The National Public Health Week website offers resources and information on how to get involved in supporting the public health workforce.
-The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) has a list of national, state, and local organizations that support public health workers.
-The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers resources on job stress and coping with job-related stress.
If you are a health care worker who is experiencing burnout or job-related harassment, please know that you are not alone. The National Public Health Week website has a list of resources for healthcare workers:
-The Public Health Workforce Interests and Needs Survey (PH WINS) is the first national study to comprehensively assess the interests and needs of the public health workforce:
-The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) provides training and technical assistance to healthcare workers on a variety of topics, including diversity and cultural competency:
If you are feeling overwhelmed or need someone to talk to, please don't hesitate to reach out to your supervisor, a trusted co-worker, or mental health professional. Taking care of yourself is essential to being able to effectively take care of others.
Thank you for all that you do!
Continue to follow along as I share the current state of Public Health throughout National Public Health Week from April 4 to April 10, 2022! You can learn more and get tips on your public health communication strategy by signing up for the Public Health Goals Newsletter.