What’s It Worth? — The Cost of Burnout & Moral Stress in Healthcare

Susan Leys
3 min readDec 29, 2021

The burnout healthcare professionals are experiencing from the Covid19 Pandemic is staggering. Just look at the numbers. In September 2020, National Nurses United reported that “there were more than 1700 Health Care Worker deaths”. Additionally, Medscape has hosted an “In Memoriam” webpage that holds thousands of more names (and links to obituaries) of international healthcare workers who have died.

How are their healthcare colleagues doing as they continue to work on the front lines? Inundated.

Moral Stress

Hospitals across the country continue to face the perfect storm of challenges related to staffing, PPE, and bed availability, not to mention the stress behind the decisions they now need to make about care. Dr. Lindsay Thompson from Johns Hopkins has extensively researched “moral stress.” Dr. Thompson defines “moral stress” when healthcare professionals care for “terminally ill or traumatically injured patients or in situations where lack of facilities, time, supplies, expertise, or other resources constrain their ability to provide needed care.” Moral stress can exacerbate compassion fatigue when challenged with stressful decision-making and the lack of equipment needed to care for patients. The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project defines compassion fatigue as a “broadly defined concept that can include emotional, physical, and spiritual distress in those providing care to another.”

The Cost of Retaining Your Healthcare Team

As a healthcare professional, it’s one thing to say you feel “burnt out,” but when combining the perfect storm of burnout, moral stress, and compassion fatigue, the results can be more problematic, especially when adding the numbers involved. Considering the number of deaths (noted above) and the cost of retention — which is the cost to an organization whenever an experienced healthcare professional leaves their organization due to burnout, compassion fatigue, or illness, will illustrate some of the present challenges. In her article “Revisiting Nurse Turnover Costs,” published in The Journal of Nursing Administration, Carolyn Bland Jones, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, reports, “there is great variability in nurse turnover cost estimates, from approximately $22,000 to more than $64,000 per nurse.” In his article, “What’s The Economic Cost of Physician Burnout,” published in Forbes Magazine in January 2020, Michael Blanding wrote, “Physician burnout costs the United States health care industry $4.6 billion a year”.

Referring to these challenges as simply “burnout” when they affect your passion for your career, the patients and families you serve, the team you work alongside, and the critical decisions you make daily during your shift is not helpful. We need to have more in-depth conversations and more robust solutions.

5 Ideas To Consider:

  1. Provide more comprehensive support and resources for all professionals working in fast-paced, high-stress healthcare environments.
  2. Even with the approval of vaccines, we can’t just forget the stress and compassion fatigue our top-notch healthcare teams have experienced; it’s essential to continue to support and retain them.
  3. Referring to the stress teams experience as “burnout” instead of “compassion fatigue”, moral stress or traumatic stress minimizes the perception of the degree of support needed to help teams cope.
  4. A percentage of funding being provided to states for Covid19 resources should be provided to help healthcare professionals and first responders cope.
  5. Covid19 websites should also have contact information and support to assist patients, families, and providers.

Ever feel like you’re struggling to keep up with the demands of your career or feeling stressed and burnt out? You’re not alone. More professionals are in high-stress careers that are affecting their health and well-being. Let’s fix this. S.A. Leys is a Consultant and High-Performance Coach for professionals. Need help? Visit http://susanleys.com

#healthcare #moralstress #personaldevelopment #mentalhealth #covid19



Susan Leys

I consult and coach the healthcare professionals and teams who care for all of us. http://susanleys.com