Stress and burnout among maternity providers in western Kenya

Stress and burnout among healthcare workers has been recognized as a global crisis. However few studies have examined this phenomenon among healthcare providers in sub-Saharan Africa and even fewer among maternity providers. Prolonged stress without adequate coping mechanisms can lead to burnout, which shows up as both physical and emotional exhaustion. This can impact interpersonal skills, job performance, and psychological and physical health. Burnout and stress can also lead to lower productivity and effectiveness and, potentially, lower quality patient care.

Maternity providers in sub-Saharan Africa face a number of work-related stressors, including, overwhelming workload, feelings of inadequacy in the face of high maternal and newborn mortality, financial strain from low pay, poor working conditions, and disrespectful behavior from patients, colleagues, and superiors.

New research led by Bixby Member Dr. Patience Afulani examined stress and burnout levels among maternity providers in western Kenya. Researchers found 85% of providers to be experiencing moderate stress, with and additional 11.5% to be experiencing high stress. They also found that 65% experienced a low level of burnout, with nearly 20% experiencing high levels of burnout.

Female providers were found to experience higher levels of burnout than their male counterparts. Researchers found a few mitigating factors: higher education, income, perceived social status, and perceived accomplishments were associated with lower perceived stress. Overcommitment to work was associate with higher stress.

This study shows how important it is to develop interventions to help providers manage stress and prevent burnout, especially during a time when providers are experiencing added potential stressors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Such interventions are needed to prevent work stressors or to help providers develop positive coping mechanisms. Interventions are needed for those already experiencing burnout to prevent effects on providers’ health, as well as the health system.