Burnout in frontline ambulance staff

Background: Staff retention is a significant issue for ambulance services across the globe. Exploratory research, although minimal, indicates that stress and burnout, in particular, influence attrition within the paramedic profession. These need to be understood if their impact on retention is to be addressed. Aims: To determine the presence of and contributory factors for burnout in the ambulance service to inform recommendations for positive change. Methods: A two-phased survey approach was adopted using an adapted Maslach Burnout Inventory and Copenhagen self-assessment burnout questionnaire, to measure levels of burnout, depersonalisation (cynicism) and personal achievement. Open-ended questions explored factors that influenced these. Demographic and comparative analysis identified trends and thematic analysis was carried out on the qualitative data. Results: Ninety-four per cent of ambulance staff in this study (n=382) reported a sense of personal achievement within their professional role; however, more than 50% were experiencing varying levels of burnout with 87% displaying moderate or high levels of depersonalisation towards their work. Causes of stress were complex: themes attributed were a perceived lack of management support, the public's misuse of the ambulance service, involuntary overtime and a poor work-life balance. Conclusions: Burnout poses a genuine threat to retention in the ambulance service and needs addressing. Proactive screening, better communication between practice staff and management and access to counselling services are recommended. This problem of burnout is beginning to be acknowledged but further evidence is needed to understand it in more depth in order for effective solutions to be developed.

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