Battling Burnout in RT

 Updated: March 28, 2018

burn out

High patient loads, new workplace demands, doing more with less — all of these realities in the typical hospital can lead to stress for health care providers like respiratory therapists, and that stress can quickly turn into burnout if it is not addressed.

Two respiratory care managers explain what they’re doing to combat it in their departments.

Keeping staff engaged

“Burnout seems to be much more prevalent today and most of the individuals I see who have reached this point, don’t realize they are there,” said John Campbell, MA, MBA, RRT, RRT-NPS, RPFT, FACHE, pulmonary services director at St. Dominic-Jackson Memorial Hospital in Jackson, MS.

Campbell says when he started in respiratory therapy back in the 1970s, people worked eight-hour shifts and were less likely to have side jobs. Now, with the advent of 12-hour shifts in many places, side jobs are becoming more and more common and more and more people are working themselves to the point of burnout.

He encourages his staff to seek out a more balanced lifestyle but acknowledges it can be difficult to convince them to follow that advice. To fill in the gaps, he works hard to keep his staff engaged.

“I find that staff interest and engagement is peaked whenever new procedures and equipment are considered,” he said. “I also try to formally give them the opportunities to make decisions and design their workflow.”

Campbell is facilitating formal Workout/Kaizen events with staff to improve efficiencies, communication, and engagement and says these events always seem to generate job satisfaction as staff see their ideas turn into reality. He encourages continuing education for the same reason, particularly in the areas of management and leadership.

“Those individuals who make the effort should eventually see promotions and other job opportunities come their way,” Campbell said.

It’s all helping his own stress levels as well.

“The more independent the bedside staff, the easier it is to prevent my own burnout,” Campbell said.

He remains engaged in the profession by stepping outside of the hospital too, serving on his state society board and the AARC Political Advocacy Contact Team, and teaching in local school programs. Setting goals for himself helps him keep on track as well.

“Ultimately, the best way that anyone can avoid burnout is to always have goals and to be always working toward achieving these goals,” Campbell said. “Achieving a goal can be rewarding but the journey toward the goal is the thing that ensures interest, engagement, and prevents burnout.”

Getting creative

Susan Wynn, MS, RRT, is director of respiratory and sleep services at Schneck Medical Center in Seymour, IN, a rural community considered underserved in that it is often difficult to attract qualified medical professionals to the area to work.

The 114-bed hospital has access to state grant money to draw workers to the area and that’s helped fill her staff, but she works hard to keep them there and happy with their jobs.

“We have tried to be creative with our resources,” Wynn said.

Wynn battles burnout by bringing in education opportunities and inviting RT staff from other underserved counties to attend, placing staff on hospital committees and teams dealing with everything from sepsis to customer service, and making sure everyone has some responsibility for department processes such as employee morale, education, competency training, and ABG lab, PFT lab, and disease management initiatives.

“We encourage ISRC involvement — both of our state chapter 7 directors work at Schneck — and get them involved in health fairs, and precepting new employees, after preceptor training, of course,” Wynn said.

Staff often precept students and new nurses too.

Staff are cross trained to do home sleep tests, PFTs, and EEGs as well, and they are also responsible for spirometry in all of the physician practices owned by the hospital. RTs visit these doctors’ offices to share their expertise and they manage spirometry quality control via those visits and shared “cyber” review systems.

Wynn sends RTs out to four nursing homes every week too, where they round on COPD and other patients, providing assessments and offering treatment recommendations. They work with county schools and asthma ED admissions and are learning to apply news skills with patients outside of the hospital to combat COPD readmissions.

“Our VP is preparing a presentation to present on our COPD readmissions at a national conference this year due to our stellar numbers,” she said.

The hospital offers a tuition reimbursement program and Wynn is encouraging her staff to take advantage of it to earn their bachelor’s degrees. (A requirement for the AARC’s Apex Recognition Award, which she hopes to apply for soon.) They participate in Lean Six Sigma and get involved with quality metrics data collection, something she believes reinforces the importance of tasks they might otherwise view as trivial.

It seems to be working.

“Our department scored in the top decile in national data for employee engagement in 2016,” Wynn said. “Our safety survey that we did in 2017 for our department was pretty stellar also.”

Her hospital is the only hospital in Indiana to be awarded a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award as well.

Wynn says she knows other hospitals are doing many of the same things they are doing, but she believes these efforts have made a big dent in any burnout that might be experienced by her staff.

“Staff is pretty happy here,” Wynn said.