HealthMay 15, 2024

Addressing the increasing stress and burnout among medical librarians 

Healthcare worker burnout can be difficult to recognize. With a growing workload and unrealistic timelines, medical librarians are the latest professionals to find themselves in need of personal coping strategies and organizational support.

The evolving role of medical librarians brings new pressures

Healthcare worker burnout has been a top concern for healthcare organizations and professionals in recent years, as overworked, overwhelmed caregivers report feeling underappreciated and resign in record numbers.

When discussing healthcare burnout, many people conjure an image of nurses – who report some of the highest rates of feeling clinical professional stress – or other frontline caregivers. What we might not realize is that medical librarians are also under increasing stress, which often leads to burnout.

Medical librarians play a crucial, if largely unseen, role in ensuring high-quality clinical care. They identify and provide current, accurate, useful medical information for care teams to use in supporting appropriate patient care decisions. The need for experienced medical librarians to identify, access, and disseminate medical information is more critical than ever, as the volume of medical data is estimated to grow 36% year-over-year through 2025.

With that growing need has come a growing pressure.

Understanding the causes and symptoms of healthcare burnout

Burnout is usually the result of several factors that can combine and amplify the cumulative impact on an individual. A cross-sectional study of 240 academic staff at a public university in Egypt found several factors that were significantly associated with higher median scores for burnout, including:

  • Being a woman
  • Working in life science specialties
  • Increasing telework hours per week

“Burnout for a medical librarian may not look the same as it does for nurses and doctors,” says Michelle Kraft, AHIP, FMLA, Director- Library Services, of the Cleveland Clinic Floyd D. Loop Alumni Library. “Learning from and leaning on other librarians can be helpful.” 

Experienced medical librarians note that self-reported symptoms from colleagues experiencing burnout may include

  • Becoming easily irritated or overwhelmed by routine requests
  • Demonstrating decreased interest or curiosity in gathering information
  • Becoming forgetful, especially of new requests
  • Changing work habits, such as starting the day later or leaving earlier

Strategies for avoiding burnout among medical librarians

“In our profession, it may not be possible to avoid all the causes of burnout,” says Beverly Murphy, MLS, AHIP, FMLA, Assistant Director – Communications and Web Content Management of Duke University Medical Center Library & Archives. “For me, it’s more a question of how to recognize and balance them to keep delivering excellence in service. Achieving that balance looks different for everyone.”

One strategy that can help librarians under pressure is to seek out innovations to improve information flow. Solutions such as generative artificial intelligence could help manage the explosion of data. Similarly, integrating new workflow solutions or communication protocols could expedite decisions, improve consistency, and reduce the number of communications needed.

Personal coping strategies

Because burnout can be personal, and rarely visible until it becomes acute or affects others, having personalized preventive measures is important for medical librarians. These can include:

  • Methodically prioritizing requests so not everything is high priority.
  • Making time for self-care and continuing education.

Institutional coping strategies

Institutional leaders also play a substantial role in helping employees avoid burnout, and some have conducted formal studies designed to measure the impact of organizational interventions.

Organizations can support medical librarians by offering more social interactions to improve employees’ physical and mental health, creating greater resiliency in the workforce. Managers should look for ways to encourage collaboration, workload sharing, and flexibility in scheduling.

It is also important for medical librarians to take advantage of these opportunities when they’re offered, colleagues advise.

eBook: Coping strategies for medical librarians

In order to address the growing issue of burnout among medical librarians, healthcare leaders will first need to recognize the symptoms and causes of burnout to craft productive preventive measures and organizational responses. To learn more, download our eBook, “Preventing burnout: Coping strategies for medical librarians.”

Download the eBook by filling out the form below

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