COVID, Employee Surveys, Healthcare, Research, Survey Questions

What Is Healthcare Burnout? (+ Using Healthcare Surveys to Monitor Stress Levels)

Healthcare worker burnout is not a new phenomenon, but it’s one that is growing (and evolving) quickly.  The term was introduced in the early 1970s, characterized by “a state of emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and depersonalization.” Recently, the World Health Organization just upgraded the definition of burnout to a “syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress” in its International Disease Classification. And while anyone can suffer from burnout—overworked employees, overscheduled children, and harried parents—it really is taking its toll on those in the medical field. 

In this blog, we’ll look at what causes burnout in healthcare, healthcare burnout prevention, and how to use healthcare surveys to ask about burnout levels.

What Causes Burnout in Healthcare? (Plus Healthcare Burnout Statistics)

A recent report found that  44% of US clinicians have symptoms of burnout. This condition happens to them more often than any other occupation. In addition, the American College of Surgeons reveals that the incidence of burnout has been increasing across all medical specialties, with front-line surgical specialties, such as trauma and general surgery, at higher risk. So what causes healthcare provider burnout? There are five main culprits:

Workflow Challenges

Instead of spending time tending to patients, many healthcare workers spend over half their workday on electronic health record (EHR) tasks that are cumbersome and inefficient.

Overwhelming Amount of New Technology

New technologies, while often useful, take more time out of healthcare workers’ day as they require training, integration, and more. Plus, they’re not always easy to use, making adoption a challenge.

Long Hours and Lack of Sleep

Many healthcare employees work long hours with little sleep. In addition, working non-traditional hours (such as night shifts) can also cause healthcare burnout, so it’s no surprise that one-third of nurses report high levels of exhaustion. 

Financial Stress and Student Debt

The expense of medical school lingers for new grads in the form of loans. Over 75% of graduates are in debt when they begin working and the average debt of medical students is more than $190K.

Loss of Control

Physicians used to be the main decision-makers in the workplace, however now many responsibilities have been taken over by hospital administrators, lawyers, business people, and health insurance companies, leaving doctors feeling like their hands are tied.

Of course, we haven’t even addressed one of the big elephants in the room yet: COVID-19. In the American Medical Association’s Coping with COVID-19 for Caregivers Survey, more than 60% of physicians surveyed felt high fear of exposing themselves or their families to COVID-19 while nearly 40% self-reported experiencing anxiety or depression. Another 43% suffered from work overload and 49% had burnout. Stress scores were highest among nursing assistants, medical assistants, social workers, and inpatient workers.

Negative Impacts of Healthcare Burnout

Healthcare workers suffering from burnout will have high rates of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a low sense of personal accomplishment due to chronic occupational stress. They may experience some or all of the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Changes in appetite
  • Depression
  • Diminished attention and dedication
  • Disengagement
  • Hostility
  • Insomnia
  • Worsened physical health

Potential outcomes of burnout include alcohol or substance abuse, damaged relationships or divorce, and even suicide. Of course, burnout doesn’t just affect the physician and their families, but also negatively impacts their colleagues and the quality of care they provide to their patients. In fact, the American College of Surgeons has proven a direct association between burnout scores and the likelihood of committing a major medical error.

How to Prevent Burnout in Healthcare

The American College of Surgeons has a number of techniques that healthcare workers can employ for healthcare burnout prevention, such as:

  • Nurturing personal and professional lives and stressing work/life balance.
  • Placing greater emphasis on finding meaning in daily work.
  • Becoming “empowered givers,” focusing on their team and patients. 
  • Focusing on what is important in life, and maintaining a positive outlook.
  • Employing mindfulness techniques, consciously expressing gratitude, and celebrating small victories.

Of course, it’s up to employers to help prevent healthcare burnout too. Some things that can reduce stress on healthcare workers include:

  • Making worker wellness part of the workplace culture
  • Creating a healthy environment (relaxation rooms, workout classes, free healthy snacks, etc.)
  • Allowing flexibility in scheduling for a better work/life balance
  • Providing mental health support
  • Acknowledging their hard work 

Surveying Healthcare Staff About Burnout

It’s worth noting that COVID-19 had some positive effects when it comes to burnout: 37% of physicians had a restored sense of purpose during the pandemic and 50% felt more valued by their organization, which is slightly higher than the overall rate of 45%. As you can see, feeling valued by your employers provides a big boost in esteem. 

Another way to make employees feel valued? Healthcare surveys. Surveys are one of the simplest ways to regularly solicit feedback from employees. Conducting these surveys also gives them a voice, which makes them 4.6 times more likely to give their best performance, according to Gallup. That’s not all: 

  • Highly engaged employees show more than 20% greater profitability. 
  • Highly engaged employees reduce absenteeism by 41% turnover by 59%.
  • 89% of HR leaders believe regular employee feedback is key to successful outcomes.

Leading healthcare facilities will regularly survey staff to ensure employees are engaged, motivated, well-trained, and have the resources they need to perform the duties of their job. The surveys can also turn up shortcomings that can be addressed to better meet the needs of their staff, reduce healthcare worker burnout and attrition rates, and ultimately improve the health outcomes and healthcare experience for patients. 

With COVID-19 continuing to burden healthcare workers, you may want to consider surveys for healthcare professionals to determine how well your facility is meeting their needs. Of course, be prepared for news and medical information you may not want to hear; for example, a recent NBC News survey among healthcare workers regarding the coronavirus revealed that many feel the supplies and equipment they need to do their jobs are in short supply. 

20 Questions to Ask on Healthcare Burnout Surveys

  1. How happy or satisfied do you feel at work?
  2. Do you regularly feel stressed or depressed at work?
  3. Do you feel empowered at work?
  4. On a 1-10 scale, how would you rate your work/life balance?
  5. Do you feel supported by the organization as a whole?
  6. If you were to leave the organization, what would your reason be?
  7. Do you feel valued at work?
  8. How often is your work recognized?
  9. Do you feel you are fairly compensated?
  10. Do you feel in control at work?
  11. Are you burdened with administrative tasks?
  12. Do you feel you are able to spend enough time with patients?
  13. Do you feel you have the tools and resources you need to do your job?
  14. Has COVID-19 impacted your work performance? If yes, please explain how.
  15. Do you feel aligned with organizational goals and values?
  16. Would you like to take on new roles or responsibilities?
  17. Are you proud to work here?
  18. If you could change one thing about your job/the workplace, what would it be?
  19. Do you feel you need more flexibility in your work schedule?
  20. Have you experienced any of the following? (Check all that apply)
    1. Anxiety
    2. Changes in appetite
    3. Depression
    4. Diminished attention and dedication
    5. Disengagement
    6. Hostility
    7. Insomnia
    8. Worsened physical health

Read more about physician surveys, surgeon surveys, nurse satisfaction surveys, and patient surveys here.


Burnout can happen in just about any field of employment, but it’s very prevalent when it comes to the healthcare field. There are many causes of burnout in healthcare and a number of solutions. To determine whether your organization has a major burnout problem on its hands, it can help to conduct a healthcare survey of employees and their stress levels. That’s where SurveyLegend comes in. Our surveys allow you to gain valuable insight into the needs of staff in order to make changes that will improve satisfaction levels across the board and reduce burnout rates. Start surveying by signing up for free now.

Are you noticing more burnout among those in the healthcare field? How are you fighting burnout rates? Or, are you a healthcare worker feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders? We’d love to hear from you and appreciate all your hard work!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the symptoms of burnout in healthcare?

If a healthcare worker is feeling burnout, they may experience anxiety, changes in appetite, depression, disengagement, hostility, insomnia, and deteriorating physical health.

What are the main causes of healthcare burnout?

Workflow challenges, an overwhelming amount of new technology, long hours and lack of sleep, student loan debt concerns, and a loss of control in the workplace.

Has COVID-19 added to the levels of healthcare worker burnout?

The pandemic has increased incidences of healthcare burnout, with many concerned about contracting the disease of bringing it home to their family. However, some healthcare employees reported feeling a renewed sense of purpose and value due to the pandemic.

What is a healthcare survey?

A healthcare survey is a series of questions sent to physicians, surgeons, nurses, aides, and others in the healthcare field to gain their feedback on any number of questions or topics.

About the Author
Born entrepreneur, passionate leader, motivator, great love for UI & UX design, strong believer in "less is more”. Big advocate of bootstrapping. BS in Logistics Service Management. I don't create company environments, I create family and team environments.