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Every US healthcare worker practices in the belly of the medical golem, a trillion-dollar beast out to gobble up market share and relative value units. Employees toil away in their hospitals and medical centres, which once seemed large but are now engulfed by ever-swelling and transmogrifying healthcare systems. The beast is handled from a distance by fortune-seeking enterprises or, in the non-profit sector, by seemingly no one at all. Caught between unpredictable human bodies and incomprehensible organisation charts, healthcare is not a field for those who require a firm sense of control over their job. Laboratory workers shoulder unique responsibilities within this environment. For one thing, they are perceived as a flawless ‘gold standard’. What the lab says goes; and when it goes wrong, the lab is to blame. For another, they do not set the pace of their own work. Busier clinicians make for busier laboratorians—yet the appropriate staffing and budget do not always follow.
The physical and psychic burdens of working within this system have thankfully become an acceptable topic of conversation. Employers openly acknowledge the epidemic of burnout—meaning ‘overwhelming exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job, and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment’.1 The flipside of reducing stigma, however, is normalising suffering. The website Medscape publishes an annual ‘physician burnout and depression report’, which flattens the profession’s distress into aloof pie charts and bar graphs.2 The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recently launched a campaign to support hospital leaders in combating burnout.3 Staff can perhaps look forward to …
Handling editor Vikram Deshpande.
Contributors BLM conceived of and wrote the manuscript.
Funding The author has not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests BLM has received payments from magazines and newspapers for articles and honoraria for talks at academic medical centres.
Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.