5 Key Tips to Avoid Burnout for Overwhelmed Healthcare Workers 


In the demanding and fast-paced world of healthcare, burnout has emerged as an all-too-common condition that affects medical professionals tasked with delivering high-quality care around the clock. Combatting healthcare worker burnout is crucial for the well-being of providers, patients, and the overall quality of care. Addressing this problem extends beyond staff welfare and turnover; it’s crucial to maintaining a high standard of healthcare delivery. We will explore the extent of healthcare worker burnout and have compiled five actionable strategies to avoid burnout, ensuring our healthcare providers are supported, healthy, and equipped to deliver the best possible care. We’ll also discuss ways Air Methods is tackling burnout.  

Understanding Burnout Among Healthcare Professionals 

Burnout in the healthcare sector is not a new occurrence, but its impacts on physicians, nurses, and staff have become more profound than ever before. Frontline healthcare workers have reported experiencing burnout at astonishing rates — in 2022, 46% of health workers reported feeling burned out often compared to 32% in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This increase underscores a crisis that not only affects individual practitioners but also the quality of patient care within our healthcare system. 

Burnout arises from prolonged or repeated stress, leading to emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion. In the context of healthcare, this condition often emerges from the high-pressure environment in which workers must maintain a continuous state of alertness and moral and professional responsibility. Burnout manifests through three primary dimensions: 

  1. Emotional exhaustion: Caregivers feel drained and unable to muster the energy for continued emotional involvement with their patients. 
  2. Depersonalization: A defensive response to overwhelming demands, leading to a cynical attitude and emotional detachment from the job and patients.
  3. Reduced personal accomplishment: Professionals feel a decline in their sense of achievement in their work.

Causes of Burnout in Healthcare 

Several factors contribute to the rise of burnout among healthcare professionals, but a few stand out: 

  • Excessive workloads: Insufficient staffing levels lead to longer shifts and more patients per caregiver, leaving less time for rest and recovery. 
  • Intense emotional involvement: Dealing with patients’ suffering, critical decisions, and sometimes the death of a patient can take a significant toll. 
  • Lack of control: A feeling of helplessness when faced with an overload of bureaucratic tasks and limited resources or autonomy. 
  • Work-life imbalance: Difficulty in separating personal life from professional life, often due to extended hours and on-call demands. 

The dedication of frontline healthcare professionals is often at odds with the demands placed upon them by an overburdened healthcare system. It is important to recognize that the exhaustion, stress, and emotional strain workers experience is not a reflection of their capability, but rather indicative of shortcomings in our healthcare system.  

“The U.S. healthcare system is difficult to navigate,” said Emily Colyer, Director of Patient Safety at Air Methods. “We’re working in a fragmented and inefficient system where there are constraints on simply doing the right thing for the patient. When these barriers make employees feel their work is not making a difference, they feel burned out.” 

These constraints in our healthcare system are pushing healthcare workers over the edge. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, workers “are at an increased risk for mental health challenges and choosing to leave the health workforce early. They work in distressing environments that strain their physical, emotional, and psychological well-being.” 

Burnout can often creep up silently on healthcare professionals. According to experts from UNC Health, key signs of burnout in workers and providers include “emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a reduced sense of accomplishment or loss of meaning in their work.” Behavioral changes like heightened irritability or frustration often accompany sleep disturbances like oversleeping or insomnia, which should not be overlooked. Physical manifestations may present as jaw clenching or teeth grinding. The ramifications of burnout extend beyond mental well-being to potentially severe consequences like hypertension, depression, substance misuse, strained personal relationships, and an upsurge in professional errors. It’s important to acknowledge these warning signs and seek professional intervention promptly to mitigate the adverse effects associated with burnout. 

5 Tips to Avoid Burnout at the Workplace 

Preventing burnout and related mental health challenges requires a joint effort between employers and our healthcare system. Health workers can also implement strategies to avoid burnout and enhance their well-being.  

Air Methods offers these five tips that may help healthcare workers who are feeling burned out on the job.  

1. Establish Boundaries to Separate Work from Personal Life 

Setting clear boundaries is essential for work-life balance. It’s critical to have time when you are not “on call” for work-related concerns. This means turning off work phones or emails during personal time and communicating your availability to colleagues and supervisors. Even small changes, like refraining from discussing work topics during meals, can go a long way. 

Tip: Utilize email autoresponders and voicemail messages to inform others when you are unavailable, and they can expect a response. 

2. Engage in Regular Physical Activity 

Exercise is widely recognized for its ability to relieve stress and improve mood by triggering the release of endorphins. Even short, consistent bouts of physical activity can make a dramatic difference in managing stress levels and improving overall well-being. 

Tip: If time is scarce, consider short 10 to 15-minute brisk walks during breaks, or try a quick high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout in the morning to jumpstart your day. 

3. Build a Support Network 

A robust support network can provide an outlet for discussing and managing the emotional demands of healthcare work. This network might include co-workers who understand the unique pressures of the job, as well as friends and family members. Air Methods has established a peer well-being program called SIREN that can help.  

Tip: Organize regular meetups or check-ins with your support system to decompress and share experiences. 

4. Prioritize Sleep and Nutrition 

Adequate sleep and proper nutrition are the building blocks of mental resilience. They help maintain focus, energy levels, and emotional stability, all key for preventing burnout. 

Tip: Create a sleep-conducive environment by minimizing electronic device usage before bed, establishing a relaxing pre-sleep routine, and having a consistent sleep schedule. Plan meals to ensure you have access to nutritious food during busy workdays. 

5. Practice Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques 

Mindfulness practices such as meditation, yoga, or deep-breathing exercises can mitigate stress and enhance feelings of calm and presence. Even a few minutes a day can make a significant difference. 
Tip: Use mobile apps designed to guide mindfulness exercises, and allocate a fixed, short period each day to practice these techniques. 

These tips can help healthcare workers when feeling overwhelmed on the job, but workplace support is just as important. Colyer emphasizes that leadership support is crucial to attracting, recruiting, and retaining teammates. “Leaders work hard to keep their teams engaged while trying to remove barriers that promote workplace burnout. When leaders support frontline teams, employees’ work remains consistent with a company’s mission and promotes retention.” 

How Air Methods is Taking Action 

As a company deeply committed to the well-being of its employees, Air Methods understands the serious impact of burnout and high stress. We have established a peer well-being program called SIREN (Stress Intervention & Recovery Employee Network) aimed at providing professional, empathetic support to combat the stress and burnout so common in healthcare environments. 

“In the short time SIREN has been in action we have seen many of our teammates greatly benefit from the support this team provides We are excited to see what the future holds for this team and the many people we can help.” -Sheryl Williams, Health & Wellness Manager at Air Methods 

Here’s what employees can expect with SIREN: 

  • Access to Peer Support Specialists (PSS). Air Methods has trained a team of PSS personnel who are ready to lend an empathetic ear and support their colleagues. These specialists are equipped to help with the unique pressures that come with life in the air medical industry. 
  • Training and expertise. Each of our Peer Support Specialists is a current Air Methods teammate and has completed extensive training in active listening and support for work-related stress. They can identify when professional resources may be necessary and can provide appropriate referrals. 
  • 24/7 availability. The SIREN Hotline offers around-the-clock support through both calls and texts, ensuring that employees have access to assistance whenever it might be needed. 
  • Proactive assistance for clinicians. During the Protean Peer Review process, clinicians have the option to notify the SIREN team about particularly challenging flights. This system allows the Peer Support Team to proactively reach out and offer support. 
  • Customizable support. Recognizing the diversity of its team, Air Methods allows employees to request a Peer Support Specialist who shares a similar background or set of experiences, tailoring the support to the individual’s specific needs. 

It is essential to understand that burnout is not merely a personal issue — it’s a complex phenomenon that reflects systemic problems in healthcare environments. Addressing burnout requires a concerted effort from all levels of the healthcare structure, with the understanding that taking care of caregivers is just as critical as caring for patients. Air Methods supports our healthcare workers with a specialized program to help meet the needs of our staff. Healthy, engaged professionals form the backbone of a thriving healthcare system at Air Methods, supporting our mission to provide exceptional air medical care.