Simon G. Talbot and Wendy Dean, arguing in STAT that burnout is actually a misdiagnosed consequence of unchecked moral injury:
We believe that burnout is itself a symptom of something larger: our broken health care system. The increasingly complex web of providers’ highly conflicted allegiances — to patients, to self, and to employers — and its attendant moral injury may be driving the healthcare ecosystem to a tipping point and causing the collapse of resilience.
The term “moral injury” was first used to describe soldiers’ responses to their actions in war. It represents “perpetrating, failing to prevent, bearing witness to, or learning about acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.” Journalist Diane Silver describes it as “a deep soul wound that pierces a person’s identity, sense of morality, and relationship to society.”
The moral injury of health care is not the offense of killing another human in the context of war. It is being unable to provide high-quality care and healing in the context of health care.
Which is why the chorus of hollow wellness outreach efforts for trainees and other physicians are so patronizing and eye-rollingly ineffective:
The simple solution of establishing physician wellness programs or hiring corporate wellness officers won’t solve the problem. Nor will pushing the solution onto providers by switching them to team-based care; creating flexible schedules and float pools for provider emergencies; getting physicians to practice mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation techniques or participate in cognitive-behavior therapy and resilience training. We do not need a Code Lavender team that dispenses “information on preventive and ongoing support and hands out things such as aromatherapy inhalers, healthy snacks, and water” in response to emotional distress crises.