On May 23, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, issued a new advisory that underscores the urgent need to support our health workforce and respond to the burnout crisis. The advisory, Addressing Health Worker Burnout: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on Building a Thriving Health Workforce, comes during Mental Health Awareness Month and follows the president’s State of the Union address on his “Unity Agenda,” which included enacting the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act [refer to Washington Highlights, March 4].
The advisory cites the AAMC’s June 2020 physician workforce report, which projects a shortage between 54,000 and 139,000 physicians by 2033.
In his opening letter, Murthy emphasized the importance of taking action to ensure our health workers’ well-being. “Already, Americans are feeling the impact of staffing shortages across the health system in hospitals, primary care clinics, and public health departments,” he wrote. “As the burnout and mental health crisis among health workers worsens, this will affect the public’s ability to get routine preventive care, emergency care, and medical procedures. It will make it harder for our nation to ensure we are ready for the next public health emergency.”
The advisory outlines recommendations that health care organizations, federal, state, local, and tribal governments, health insurers and payers, health care technology companies, academic institutions, clinical training programs, and health workers can take to address health worker burnout, while also building a thriving workforce and bolstering our public health infrastructure.
Notable recommendations in the advisory include:
- Protecting the safety and well-being of all health workers by addressing workplace violence and unsafe working conditions.
- Ensuring health workers seek mental health and substance use care by eliminating punitive policies.
- Reducing administrative burdens and the cognitive load placed on health workers through human-centered and equitable health information technology and payment models.
- Strengthening social connection and community through peer- and team-based models to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.
- Diversifying the public health workforce and investing in public health to better address health inequities and the social determinants that impact health and well-being.