Burning Out and Striking Back


Many workers are going on strike. Should psychiatrists join them?




Back on October 1st, the British publication The Guardian predicted there could be thousands of labor strikes within weeks in the US.1 Perhaps that is beginning now. About 10,000 John Deere workers just went on strike. About 60,000 Hollywood entertainment workers are planning to strike Monday if their working conditions do not improve. Almost 100% of Kaiser Permanente’s nurses and health care workers authorized a strike vote, though physicians were not part of that process. Nevertheless, more physicians are now employed in such health care organizations than in private practice.

At the same time, we know that burning out has been escalating over recent years. For physicians, the rate is at epidemic proportions and escalating even more since the pandemic, but it is also climbing in other professions and parents.

Physicians have traditionally not gone on strike in the US, though they have in Canada. Although legal reasons are sometimes posed as the big obstacle, psychological restraints may be the hardest to overcome. These include feeling that we are professionals, not workers or laborers. We tend to feel—and are taught—that we are strong and tough, and therefore can overcome any obstacle. Then, our primary ethical principle is to put patients first, even though on an airplane crisis, we need to put our own oxygen mask on first in order to best help others.

Perhaps now is the time for physicians, including psychiatrists, to reconsider joining others in striking. Nothing else has helped enough so far.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric TimesTM.


1. Sainato M. Wave of US labor unrest could see tens of thousands on strike within weeks. The Guardian. October 1, 2021. Accessed October 15, 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/oct/01/us-labor-unrest-unions-strikes

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