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Can burnout trigger a medical or nursing board investigation?

The idea of professional burnout is not a new one. We have studied the statistics and likely causes for decades, and one industry consistently has the highest burnout numbers: healthcare.

A study digging into the burnout rates for physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals found that the rates were already concerningly high in 2015. Now, after a pandemic and the growing burden of a workforce that is too small to meet patient demands, recent studies have found the rate of burnout has skyrocketed. A piece out of Harvard notes that more than half of healthcare professionals are exhausted and ready to leave their chosen professions.

What is burnout?

Also known as compassion fatigue, burnout in the healthcare profession generally consists of a combination of professional exhaustion and secondary traumatic stress. Common symptoms of burnout can include:

  • Exhaustion. Concern about the ability to keep practicing in the chosen profession at the current rate is a red flag.
  • Feelings of inadequacy. It is common for those who suffer from exhaustion to also question whether they are making a difference.
  • Compassion fatigue. A lack or reduction in concern for the patient’s wellbeing is another common symptom.

Ideally those with these symptoms will take a break or shift work obligations to a more manageable balance. But what happens if this is not an option?

What are the risks with burnout?

Aside from the obvious impact of mental exhaustion on one’s physical and emotional wellbeing, burnout can also result in:

  • Increase in medical error rate;
  • Poor job performance; and
  • Substance abuse.

Any one of these can trigger an investigation by the state licensing board. Those who get to this point, who find themselves the target of an investigation after burnout may have led to a bad choice, are wise to seek legal counsel. Depending on the details of the situation, the investigation could lead to various sanctions including the potential to suspend or revoke a professional license. An attorney experienced in these investigations can review the situation and discuss options, helping to better ensure you do not lose the ability to continue within your chosen field.

Attorney John Rivas is responsible for this communication.