New research into BIPOC provider burnout underscores the need for BIPOC provider support
The COVID-19 pandemic has coincided with a period of intense racial unrest in the United States. The murder of George Floyd in May 2020 triggered Black Lives Matter protests, and rising rates of anti-Asian violence have become a huge concern. The COVID-19 pandemic itself also revealed inequities in health care and disease outcomes among different demographics, including racial disparities especially pronounced for Black and Latino populations and people of color.
As mental health needs have increased and mental health care is becoming normalized, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) providers are now highly sought out—in part because when people experience distress or mental health concerns and turn to a mental health provider, they often seek out a provider who they feel will better understand the cultural nuances of their concerns. But the trauma the providers themselves are coping with is often overlooked in the broader mental health space. There is very limited research on race-related stress and coping among BIPOC mental health providers, particularly during the pandemic. Qualitative data suggest that racial trauma experienced directly or vicariously through patients increases the burden on providers of color and their vulnerability to burnout. And mental health provider burnout is associated with harmful outcomes like health issues, job dissatisfaction, and negative feelings toward clients.
The clinical research team at Modern Health has decades of experience conducting and collaborating on academic research. Continuing to contribute to the peer-reviewed psychological literature on topics we feel are critical to meeting our mission—like diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging—will help inform how best to support our members, providers, and employers. In one of our most recent research collaborations, we worked with my colleagues Dr. Keri Kirk of Georgetown University and Dr. Lindsey Knott of Baylor College of Medicine to quantify the level of burnout felt by BIPOC providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. I launched the project when I was an assistant professor of psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and I was excited to continue this work with the clinical research team at Modern Health. Our aim was to examine providers’ reports of racial discrimination including the following occurring because of one's race or ethnicity:
We distributed an anonymous survey to mental health practitioners in the United States between July and November 2020. The survey included questions about racial discrimination, coping, burnout, and perceived stress. The majority of respondents were female (85.37%), BIPOC identifying (71.95%), and aged 25-34 (42.68%).
Led by our research scientist Dr. Sara Sagui-Henson, the Modern Health clinical research team analyzed the results and found that:
Being younger, having shorter job tenure, and working as a social worker or family therapist were associated with higher burnout. For BIPOC providers, greater experiences of racial discrimination correlated with higher work-related burnout and stress. Additionally, the use of maladaptive coping strategies (e.g., self-blame, substance use, behavioral disengagement) was associated with higher burnout and stress.
Results indicate that racial discrimination during the pandemic is significantly associated with work-related burnout and stress among BIPOC mental health providers. Given that these providers were not specific to the Modern Health network, it is critical for all of us in the mental health care system to examine the experiences of BIPOC providers to learn how we can best support them in their practices. Things like peer consultation, surveys to assess stress and burnout that result in actions to address these issues (like avoiding high patient loads), and workplace anti-racism efforts are all worthwhile considerations to better support BIPOC provider mental health. We also need to support rest and time away for BIPOC providers and think creatively about how technology can help BIPOC providers to thrive: For example, at Modern Health we utilize Circles (live community sessions led by therapists and coaches) and in-app digital content to support provider workload, and we reduce the burden of administrative tasks through an easy-to-use, streamlined provider dashboard. It’s an important goal at Modern Health to increase the racial diversity of available providers, and research into the BIPOC provider experience is one way in which we aim to recruit more BIPOC providers and empower them by addressing their needs.
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