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The Deeper Health Human Resources Crisis

We see the stats about understaffed clinics or hospital ER's, shortages of healthcare workers (not always as clear cut as it seems). But the healthcare human resources crisis goes far deeper than that, in a way not captured by statistics. What about those still on the job but checked out?

Call it burnout, overload, moral injury, self-preservation, quiet quitting. It's on the rise everywhere, most of all in healthcare. For years, we've struggled with massive gaps in the system. To cope, we've relied on the heroic efforts of healthcare workers to go above and beyond for the sake of their patients. They've had enough, and aren't willing to sacrifice themselves any longer.

Every day, people are going through the motions. "It's just a job," is the constant refrain. They've stopped caring or putting in any extra effort, feeling it isn't appreciated nor is it reciprocated. As people do less, the lack of appreciation and reciprocation accelerates, a downward spiral of apathy and cynicism. If anyone thinks the quality of care patients receive doesn't suffer, they're fooling themselves.

Take away agency, autonomy and meaning from peoples' work. Treat them like easily-replaceable cogs in a machine. Treat them like service providers, and devalue meaningful relationships with co-workers and patients. Make it obvious you don't know what their work involves, what they need to do it, and don't support them when things go wrong.

Add more responsibilities that benefit administration but not those on the front line. Don't acknowledge their efforts, or even worse, provide some meaningless corporate-approved "reward" that just shows how little you appreciate what they actually do and how it affects them.

Think about doctors churning through anonymous patients, subservient to rules and conditions imposed on them without consultation, writing prescription after prescription, or one-line referrals for patients they don't know and will never see again.

Are they fulfilling their dreams?

Are they making a difference in anyone else's life?

Basking in the satisfaction that led them to this career?

Or are they counting the hours until the end of shift, the days until they can go fishing, or the weeks or months until retirement or exiting the profession altogether?

Are they providing the same patient care as a doctor in an environment they helped design, working with colleagues they respect, and who has the freedom to make the decisions that are best for patients and themselves?

Tens of thousands of healthcare workers have already left in all but body.

They don't show up on spreadsheets but their absence is strongly felt every minute of every day.