Unique Workplace Challenges for Healthcare Workers

Common career paths in the healthcare industry include physicians and nurses. Yet, there are hundreds of careers related to the healthcare industry that a person may pursue. 

Indeed lists 32 of the possible career paths that people may explore. Many of these careers do not involve direct interaction with patients or years of education. 

Depending on the type of career path a person chooses, that person could work in a variety of settings. Examples include hospitals, physician’s offices, diagnostic labs, research facilities, nursing homes, and administrative offices. 

The challenges facing healthcare professionals can be the most severe for those working with patients each day.

Challenges Facing Healthcare Professionals on the Frontlines

Working on the frontline in the health care industry poses certain risks. Some of the challenges facing healthcare professionals include:

Exposure to Disease

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the challenges facing healthcare professionals. One of those challenges is exposure to disease. Healthcare workers are exposed to many types of infectious diseases daily. 

Exposure to infectious disease can come from a variety of sources including:

  • Airborne pathogen
  • Bloodborne pathogens
  • Health care waste
  • Contact with ordinary objects found in medical facilities

A healthcare worker could be exposed to COVID-19 while incubating a patient. The same worker could also be exposed to infection while inserting an IV line or assisting a patient as the patient uses the bathroom.

Exposure to infectious disease is one of the most serious challenges facing healthcare professionals each day. For that reason, workers and employers must take steps to reduce the risk of exposure to infectious diseases. 

Steps workers and medical facilities can take include:

  • Using appropriate PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) during each encounter with a patient
  • Washing and sanitizing hands before and after patient contact
  • Follow federal and state guidelines for infection control
  • Handle and dispose of sharp instruments and needles correctly
  • Treating all body fluids, including blood, as if they are infectious

If a healthcare worker contracts an infectious disease, qualifying for workers’ compensation benefits can be difficult. The argument against benefits is that healthcare workers have near-constant exposure to disease as part of their job. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted this issue.

Exposure to Violence

Healthcare professionals who work with patients directly can be confronted with violent situations. Therefore, the risk of personal injury is another one of the challenges facing healthcare professionals each day.

Patients can pose a risk if they become frightened, agitated, or confused. The side effects of medication can increase conditions that could make a patient act violently. A patient that was involved in a car accident could be confused. 

Family members who are worried about their loved ones or frustrated with what they perceive is a lack of care can become violent. Also, individuals brought to the hospital under arrest can pose a risk for healthcare workers if they become violent.

High Stress

The stakes in the healthcare industry are high. Often, patients are facing life-and-death decisions. Healthcare professionals working in emergency rooms and intensive care units make life-and-death decisions each day.

The stress of trying to keep a patient alive or treat a patient with a severe condition can be overwhelming. One decision could result in a patient’s death or incapacitation. 

The enormity of the situation causes burnout for many healthcare professionals. Nurses have a high risk of burnout. Nurses are the ones who hold the hands of dying patients and deal with grieving families. 

Long Working Hours

It is common for some healthcare professionals to work 12 to 16-hour shifts. In some cases, healthcare workers may work back-to-back shifts. Fatigue and exhaustion are challenges facing healthcare professionals in many settings. Emergency rooms and busy hospitals are examples of extreme working hours.

Also, many healthcare workers have unusual working hours, including night and weekend shifts. Their shifts and hours can be very inconsistent, which can add to stress and fatigue.

Pay Rates

Some healthcare professionals earn high salaries. Given their education and experience, they deserve to earn higher pay rates.

However, many healthcare professionals are grossly underpaid. The pay rates in the healthcare industry can be very inconsistent. 

Too often, healthcare professionals are underpaid when you consider the importance of their job. You must also factor in the stress they endure and the health risks that they expose themselves to each day as they care for their patients. 

Work Overload

Hospitals, emergency rooms, and medical facilities are often understaffed for the patient load they handle. Understaffing contributes to and increases the severity of many of the challenges facing healthcare professionals discussed here. 

Unfortunately, the problem of work overload is growing worse as our population increases. The fact that a significant percentage of our population is older is also a factor. A healthcare crisis, such as a pandemic, increases the workload for healthcare professionals in facilities that are already understaffed.

Strenuous work can be another cause of workplace injury in the healthcare field. Healthcare professionals can sustain a variety of injuries at work. Injuries include back injuries, soft tissue injuries, repetitive stress injuries, sprains, and strains. 

The challenges facing healthcare professionals are not likely to improve without major changes in the industry.