Laboratory testing is the single highest-volume medical activity in the lives of Americans and these tests help drive about two-thirds of medical decisions made by doctors and health care professionals. The pandemic has led to burnout of these professionals, causing dangerous shortages nationwide. This is happening to a profession that was already dealing with labor shortages in many labs prior to COVID-19. To process the millions of COVID-19 tests many labs must run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and were unprepared to deal with the major increase in testing, leading to this laboratory employee burnout.
Medical laboratory testing is performed by highly skilled, rigorously educated, certified and licensed medical laboratory professionals. The gold standard and most often used test for COVID-19 is a PCR test. Since this test is precise and meticulous the process is placing extra pressure on the workforce. In addition to the COVID-19 tests, labs are also still running tests for pregnant women, heart attack patients, cancer patients, antibiotic resistant infections, strep throat and other illnesses or diseases.
The demand for this profession is expected to grow, but the number of training programs is declining. In some states there are no training programs at all. Getting more scientists in these positions are critical, but keeping laboratory scientists from getting burned out should be a top priority.
So what can labs do?
Eliminate Supply Chain Interruptions
If a lab cannot receive tests, it will undoubtedly delay, decrease or prevent a lab from performing testing altogether. Interruptions can create additional stress on laboratory staff. A consistent and trustworthy supply chain is essential to eliminate uncertainty and reduce stress.
Many COVID-19 testing kits require dry ice or a cold chain for shipping, which can be complicated, cause issues with logistics or impact the quality of the product if there are shipping delays. It can also increase the overall price of the kits due to these extra shipping requirements. Choosing a product which does not need a cold chain and can ship at ambient temperature, reduces the stress of this process and can make receiving the product much simpler.
Set a schedule
Routine is normalizing and leads to less overwhelmed workers. Try to set the same or similar schedule for the team daily. Focus on one task at a time which will enable thinking each task through and a sense of accomplishment, instead of increasing anxiety.
Delegation can even out some of the workload, take pressure off those carrying the bulk of it and build trust and employee loyalty in those who are capable and have the bandwidth to take on more. This can help those with less responsibility grow their own career, while reducing stress in those that usually take on the most.
Take small breaks
Taking a 10-minute break a few times a day isn't going to have a catastrophic negative effect on your workload, but it will increase your wellbeing, energy and perspective. Especially if you can get outside and step away from your work environment for a few minutes to clear your head.
Support others and keep up morale
Supporting others can help with our own mood as well. Make sure to check in with your team and peers outside of work. Have regular meetings or calls and don’t always take everything so seriously, laughter is a game changer for mood and morale.
Seek out articles or webinars that focus on a problem you may be currently facing. Webinars may be extra helpful as you can often ask specific questions. It also helps to know you are not alone in facing these challenges. Lastly, keep up-to-date on the facts of the pandemic, misinformation can cause additional, unnecessary stress. Information changes quickly and empowering yourself with facts and sharing this information with peers will help you feel less overwhelmed and more in control.