Addressing Burnout

The AAPA’s Task Force seeks to provide education, support and research to mitigate the risks of burnout for PAs and other caregivers.

May 2023 – The Journal of Healthcare Contracting

In 2019, the Board of Directors and House of Delegates of the American Academy of Physician Associates created a Joint Task Force on Burnout (JTF). Eric Tetzlaff, MHS, PA-C, DFAAPA, Chair, AAPA Task Force on Burnout, explained some of the reasons behind the formation of the Task Force: “The AAPA board of directors, the house of delegates and the PA community at large recognized the increasing and multidirectional demands on PA professionals with resultant detrimental impacts on professional well-being of PAs and the ability to provide high quality care to patients.”

The risk of professional burnout was not unique to PAs in healthcare as it is workplace syndrome suffered by all members of the healthcare team, Tetzlaff said, but there was an unmistakable unmet need to provide education, support and research on PA burnout to mitigate the risks of the burnout and help improve team-based care provided by PAs. “Although other organizations were addressing provider burnout, prior to the formation of the AAPA task force on PA burnout, there was no uniform and coordinated effort to address PA burnout.”

In an interview with The Journal of Healthcare Contracting, Jennifer M. Orozco, DMSc, PA-C, DFAAPA, AAPA President and Chair of the Board, discussed burnout among today’s healthcare workforce, how quality of care can be affected, and some initiatives the AAPA is undertaking to address the issue.

The Journal of Healthcare Contracting: Why are PAs particularly susceptible to burnout?

Jennifer Orozco: Addressing burnout across healthcare professions has been a priority for the medical community for years, but the strain of COVID-19 on our healthcare system put a spotlight on how critical it is to foster clinician well-being as healthcare workers are quitting at alarmingly high rates.

AAPA has been proactively working to support PAs and fight burnout within our profession for many years. Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, AAPA established a taskforce to uncover the root causes of burnout in healthcare and identify meaningful, long-term solutions – not just treatments for the surface symptoms.

Though the task force’s official work was completed in 2022, addressing PA well-being remains important to AAPA’s work, and we continue to gather insights to inform the resources and support we provide to the profession.

AAPA’s 2022 Salary Report found that while 46.3% of PAs reported experiencing some type of burnout, 79% of the PAs remain optimistic about the PA profession.

JHC: What are some of the most demanding aspects of a PA’s role within the care setting?

Orozco: Across the country, PAs are experiencing the challenges of meeting patient needs with an ongoing healthcare workforce shortage. There are not enough providers to meet patient needs today, and the situation is expected to become even more dire in the coming years, creating a perfect storm. According to industry estimates, 99 million Americans lack adequate access to primary care, and 158 million Americans lack adequate access to mental health care.

One of the many learnings from the COVID pandemic is that the U.S. healthcare system has reached a tipping point – a “perfect storm.” We are at the convergence of healthcare workforce shortages, a mental health crisis, a growing aging population, and a rise in chronic diseases like obesity and diabetes.

An analysis of EMSI data show there will be a shortage of up to 3.2 million healthcare workers by 2026. BLS data shows that 2% of the healthcare workforce quits every month.

Without modern, integrated, team-based healthcare, the U.S. healthcare system will simply not be able to meet these growing needs. We must remove outdated and burdensome requirements and laws that weigh down healthcare teams across the country. In many states, PAs are still required to be supervised by a physician, despite the ongoing and growing physician shortages. PAs are highly trained healthcare providers who should be allowed to practice to the full extent of their training and education. With more than 500 million patient visits annually, PAs are a crucial part of the solution to healthcare provider shortages. By removing unnecessary restrictions, PAs would be better able to meet patient needs where they are greatest.

JHC: How could this affect the quality of care?

Orozco: Outdated healthcare laws directly impact a patient’s ability to access high-quality and safe healthcare. For many patients, PAs are their primary care provider, and may be the only provider in town. Despite a growing healthcare workforce shortage, the PA profession is expected to continue growing rapidly. The BLS estimates the PA profession will grow 28% between 2021 and 2031, much faster than the 5% average growth rate for all professions. In fact, the PA profession is growing eight times faster than the physician profession. This is why AAPA continues advocating for legislation that ensures all providers are allowed to practice to the full extent of their training and education.

JHC: What are some of the goals of the task force? Any initiatives or priorities in 2023?

Orozco: When the task force was created by AAPA’s House of Delegates in 2019, it was tasked with identifying and sharing strategies to reduce the impacts of burnout on PAs. The taskforce was responsible for identifying resources and strategies that lead to burnout, leading educational efforts on ways to prevent burnout, and raise awareness of the burnout issue impacting PAs nationwide. Three years later, the task force has met these calls to action, in part creating free CME models that are accessible to all PAs, launching an online burnout resource center, and leading a wellness symposium during AAPA’s 2022 Conference in Indianapolis to educate PAs about burnout and ways to prevent it.

In 2023, AAPA will develop further continuing medical education (CME) on burnout and encourage dialogue to break the stigma surrounding mental health and treatment for mental health. In addition, AAPA is also providing funding to support the National Academy of Medicine’s National Plan for Health Workforce Well-Being.

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