A new research project which will look into the health of Australia’s health practitioners, aims to support the wellbeing of healthcare workers and protect patients from harm. The research is led by A/Professor Marie Bismark, a consultation liaison psychiatry registrar with Melbourne Health. She also leads a research team at the University of Melbourne.

WHY IT MATTERS

The project will explore why health practitioners in Australia have higher rates of burnout, depression, and suicide than other occupations. The research will consider a range of pressures on clinicians including extended work hours, misunderstandings of mandatory reporting, and the impact of the pandemic. A/Prof Bismark will also explore factors that support clinicians to thrive.

Previous research on clinician health has focused heavily on doctors. This research will be the first in the world to consider the health of all registered health professions, including nurses, dentists, physiotherapists, and occupational therapists. The hope is that the research will lead to a toolkit of measures and resources, tailored for the Australian context, and suitable for national use.

Part of the research involves confidential interviews with nurses, doctors, and physiotherapists with up to five years of clinical experience. These interviews will help to build a better understanding of the impact of compassionate clinical leadership on the wellbeing of health practitioners.

THE LARGER TREND

The high rates of clinician burnout is an increasing area of concern. According to an article by the Medical Journal of Australia, the beyondblue national mental health survey of doctors and medical students (conducted in October 2013) reported notable percentages of Australian doctors with high levels of emotional exhaustion (32%) and cynicism (35%).

Additionally, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has also increased the stress and burden of healthcare workers. Last month, a new mental health program, which is a partnership between Smiling Mind and the Australian Federal Government, was launched to allow 20,000 Australian healthcare professionals to get access to a dedicated mental health program, Healthcare IT News reported.

ON THE RECORD

“The health sector urgently needs tools to identify which professions, roles, and organizations have the best and worst clinician health and the ability to measure which initiatives make a difference,” A/prof Bismark said.

“We hope that our findings will support change in the healthcare sector, so that clinicians with early signs of burnout or ill health are able to receive support tailored to their individual needs and practice setting,” she added.

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