To the Health Care Industry
We ask that health care organizations develop real strategies to address the root causes of burnout – be they longstanding issues like electronic medical record inefficiencies or more recent challenges stemming from the pandemic. It’s time to do more to promote the well-being of health care workers and improve their access to mental health services, not only during the current public health emergency but long after.
To Federal and State Lawmakers
We encourage the federal government to fund programs and support comprehensive legislation addressing clinician burnout and wellness, including during early medical training. We ask state governments to recognize they hold the key to alleviating a major element that reinforces stigma – the medical licensing process. Dr. Wimble’s recent paper compared medical licensing applications across the country, and identified the most physician-friendly states for mental health.
The Federation of State Medical Boards made sweeping recommendations designed to help curb doctors’ reluctance to seek mental health treatment in a 2018 policy statement. The group encouraged state medical boards to review their “licensure (and renewal) applications and evaluate whether it is necessary to include probing questions about a physician applicant’s mental health, addiction, or substance use.”
We’d like to see this momentum continue, with all states limiting questions about mental health to conditions that currently impair clinicians’ ability to perform their job. As Dr. Esther Choo, an emergency physician and professor of emergency medicine, wrote in a recent Op-Ed for the Washington Post: Many prominent organizations including the American Psychiatric Association and American Medical Association “have advocated against using past mental health diagnosis and treatment as a means of assessing fitness for work. As of 2018, however, 32 state medical boards and 22 nursing boards continue to ask mental health questions on licensing forms that are inconsistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
While these figures don’t capture the strides that have since been made, our work to combat these obstacles – real and perceived – must continue as the pandemic rages on and providers are still suffering. In addition, we ask that states adopt the model legislation enacted by the Virginia legislature in 2020 to develop confidential support programs for providers. Other states have taken similar action, giving providers more avenues to seek the help they need.
To the Clinicians
Lorna was the toughest of the tough. This can happen to anyone and the tide can turn in the blink of an eye. Please take time for yourselves and take care of each other. Encourage your colleagues to take a break and make it “OK” to sit down. Talk to your peers. Dr. Humayun Chaudhry, President and CEO of the Federation of State Medical Boards, says a misperception persists that doctors could lose their license for simply getting mental health care, noting there are support programs available and opportunities to pause licenses and re-enter the workforce after getting help if needed.
To Health Care Rating Agencies
We ask that ratings agencies like U.S. News and World Report start incorporating clinician well-being and the work environment into their rankings, using well-established industry measures. This could have a seismic impact, improving not only burnout but the patient-quality outcomes measured in these rankings. The U.S. News Best Hospitals edition has just published; we would like to see next year’s rankings take the lead on this.
To the General Public
We ask you to recognize that every one of us will need health care at some time in our lives. Our health care workforce has been carrying an incredible burden for all of us – especially during this prolonged pandemic – and they deserve to be of sound body and mind. When clinicians are unwell, it may impact the quality of care you or a loved one receives.
Please join our community and support our clinicians and their families by following us on social media @drlornabreenheroesfoundation (Instagram), @drbreenheroes (Twitter) and Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes Foundation (Facebook). Share your stories and ideas on how we can help.
Mother Teresa once said, “I alone cannot change the world. But I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” Lorna’s death has cast a stone, and we will continue to fight for a cause that was so important to her and to change the paradigm that was, in the end, her undoing.