Health and Safety Concerns for Frontline Medical Workers

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Demand for frontline medical workers, such as registered nurses and physician assistants, has never been greater. Virtually every city in Pennsylvania and across the country is facing a shortage.

While the limited number of qualified candidates is the primary source of the problem, another factor comes in the form of professional burnout. Frontline medical workers are leaving the profession behind, unable to continue for a myriad of reasons.

Given the health and safety concerns facing frontline medical workers, it’s no surprise so many are headed for the exits. Healthcare facilities will need to take steps to mitigate these factors in order to prevent the shortage from getting worse.

The following are seven health and safety concerns facing frontline medical workers and driving up burnout rates nationwide:

Injuries

Nurses and other frontline medical workers are on their feet for virtually their entire work shift. Sooner or later, this catches up to them in the form of slip and fall accidents and similar injuries. While slip-resistant healthcare worker shoes and other solutions are effective in reducing injury rates, more needs to be done to reduce the number of injuries occurring among frontline medical teams. Each time an RN or PA, or similar medical professional gets hurt on the job and takes time off to recover, the facility becomes even more taxed in terms of limited human resources, further attributing to the ongoing shortage.

Illness

Medical professionals working directly with patients suffering from infectious diseases are always at some risk of becoming infected themselves. But the COVID-19 pandemic took this risk to new heights. Millions of nurses and other frontline medical workers found themselves testing positive for the virus and forced to quarantine. While access to adequate levels of personal protective equipment and the development of safe and reliable vaccines have helped to reduce the chances of infection, new strains of the virus are proving pesky in terms of increased rates of infection. As the world faces new infectious threats in the form of monkeypox and other disease, healthcare facilities will need to continue to provide frontline workers with the best protection available.

Assault

You’d think violence against medical professionals would be unheard of, considering how they’re working hard to treat people who need it most. But far too often, nurses and other staff are the victims of assault and battery committed by patients and their loved ones. It’s an unfortunate reality of the job, one that calls for added security measures in hospitals and clinics across Pennsylvania. Asking medical workers to face the risk of violence is a lot to ask, considering everything else we expect of them, so efforts to mitigate this risk will be essential in order to solve the ongoing shortage.

Exhaustion

Considering the high rate of nurses and other medical staff working 10-12 hour shifts at a time, it’s no surprise exhaustion is another factor threatening the health and wellbeing of frontline workers. While extended shifts are common within the medical profession, owing to the nature of the job, medical workers are not superhumans. With exhaustion comes a greater risk of making mistakes that threaten the safety of patients. It also increases burnout rates.

Stress

Working in the frontlines of medicine means you’re responsible for the lives of patients. One wrong move or mistake can lead to tragedy. There’s tremendous pressure, which no doubt contributes to elevated levels of stress and anxiety.

Weight Gain

Disproportionate rates of weight gain among nurses and other frontline medical staff has been a problem for years. The stress, pressure, and constant expectation to perform at your highest level leads many medical professionals to turn to comfort food as a form of self-medication. Combined with challenges arising from reduced access to healthy meals when working around the clock, weight issues remain a leading concern among healthcare professionals.

Depression

The highs associated with helping people overcome injuries and illness can be exceptional. But the lows of watching good people deteriorate despite your best efforts can prove devastating. With this in mind, it’s no surprise depression remains one of the most common health concerns facing frontline workers. Healthcare facilities will need to continue to find ways to help frontline workers manage the emotional toll the job takes on them as a way to reduce burnout rates as well as increase employee satisfaction levels.

The shortage of qualified frontline workers remains a serious problem in Pennsylvania as well as around the world. But in order to slow the rate down, medical facilities need to do more to mitigate the health and safety risks facing their frontline workers.

Julie Steinbeck is a freelance writer from Florida. She enjoys covering topics related to business, fashion, and travel.