We know working in EMS often has intense physical, mental, and emotional effects that likely contribute to profession’s high turnover rate. However, there has been little published research in the last 20 years on the topic of burnout among American EMS workers. Defined as feelings of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and lowered personal accomplishment, burnout has been associated with absenteeism and turnover in U.S.-based cohorts of EMS workers.
Occupational stress among EMS caregivers has been attributed to factors such as hazardous environments, exposure to traumatic situations, physical strain, the demands of shift work, and hierarchal cultures prevalent in the industry. In other healthcare professions, such as among emergency nurses and physicians, occupational burnout has been tied to lower-quality patient care. Gaining a better understanding of occupational stress and burnout among EMS professionals may be important to providing high-quality patient care and combating concerns about recruitment, retention, and workforce engagement.
As part of a provider well-being initiative, Allina Health conducted a study to explore the prevalence of occupational burnout among its EMS employees. It reported on its findings in the paper “Burnout and Exposure to Critical Incidents in a Cohort of Emergency Medical Services Workers from Minnesota,” published in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine.
Allina Health EMS, based in St. Paul, Minn., is a hospital-based EMS agency with more than 500 providers that serves more than 100 communities in the region, including rural, urban, and suburban environments. It runs its own 9-1-1 dispatch center.
Using the Maslach Burnout Inventory-Human Services Survey (MBI-HSS), Allina Health EMS researchers found the overall prevalence of burnout among paramedics, EMTs, and dispatchers was 18%. A much higher level of burnout, 32%, was reported among the group of only dispatchers. Clinicians who were not in a committed relationship or did not have children also reported higher levels of burnout, 26% and 28%, respectively, whereas clinicians who were older than 50 reported lower rates. These results are based on analyzed responses from 209 survey respondents who provide 9-1-1 responses at the agency.
Notably, occupational burnout has been estimated at 38% for employed physicians and 28% for the general working population in the U.S.—both much higher than Allina Health EMS’s burnout rate. Even though medics at Allina Health experience burnout at a lower rate, the level of burnout within its dispatchers is similar to employed physicians and higher than the U.S. general working population.
In line with other research, this study found that clinicians reported calls involving children, calls involving a person they know, and incidents where an error leads to an adverse outcome are among the most disturbing calls to respond to. The study also found no relationship between self-reported cumulative career exposure to these types of critical incidents and burnout.
The findings from this study also point to the high prevalence of workplace violence directed at EMS professionals. A significant number of respondents had been threatened with a gun/weapon or assaulted by a patient at least once during their EMS career.
The complete article is available here. For more information please contact Lori L. Boland, MPH, Allina Health EMS, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Boland LL, Kinzy TG, Myers RN, Fernstrom KM, Kamrud JW, Mink PJ, Stevens AC. Burnout and Exposure to Critical Incidents in a Cohort of Emergency Medical Services Workers from Minnesota. West J Emerg Med, 2018; 19(6): 987–95.
Susanna J. Smith is a content strategist and freelance writer who focuses on the future of healthcare and how new technologies and care models are reshaping the healthcare industry. She holds a master’s in public health from Columbia University and has worked as a writer, editor, and researcher for more than 10 years. Follow her work at @SusannaJSmith.