The NHS junior doctors strike happening in the UK highlights concerning issues around burnout and wellbeing for our overstretched medical workforce. As a company providing medical training simulations, working closely with an international network of clinicians, we understand the immense pressures doctors face.
Heavy workloads, long hours, and emotional distress all contribute to the worryingly high burnout rates amongst junior doctors. 62% of junior doctors reported suffering from depression, anxiety, stress, burnout, emotional distress, or another mental health condition relating to or worsened by their work. Of those, around half said it had gotten worse in the past month. This cannot be sustainable for staff or patients. We need to find better ways to support our doctors.
Validating Tech Relief Measures
Technology like VR simulations could provide part of the solution. Immersive VR training allows practice of high-risk scenarios to improve skills and confidence, while reducing anxiety around real medical emergencies. These simulations also build resilience through stress inoculation – gradually exposing trainees to controlled stressors to help them cope better with future job demands. This approach may lead to less burnout down the line, benefitting staff wellbeing and patient care, which has been outlined in our research with Dr. Todd Chang and the team at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
Virtual reality could also provide easily accessible mindfulness experiences to help medical staff manage stress. Even short VR meditation sessions allow staff to take mental breaks during hectic shifts, as supported by many research studies. For example, an immersive VR nature walk can rapidly reduce feelings of anxiety and fatigue by up to 40%. Making these programs quick and simple to access within hospitals allows on-demand support where staff are already located, encouraging more people to prioritise self-care. We recently had physician and mindfulness advocate Dr. Jose Ferrer Costa on our i3 Sphere podcast to discuss the strength of such VR-based meditative experiences.
We should also look at how technology can take over administrative tasks, freeing up doctor time for more meaningful patient interactions. And crucially, we need to ensure adequate breaks, flexibility, and rostering to allow a healthy work-life balance.
Broader Healthcare Reform Still Essential
We need to be very clear – virtual reality and other technologies alone will not solve doctor burnout or the underlying challenges facing the NHS. Broader issues like underfunding, staffing shortages, excessive workloads, and lack of robust mental health support must be addressed through healthcare policy reform and increased investment.
However, innovations like VR simulation training, stress resilience programs, and accessible mindfulness experiences could be valuable tools as part of a wider strategy. While pushing for funding and structural changes, we can pilot and validate tech solutions that provide staff additional urgent training and mental health relief during this crisis period.
Technology will only form part of the solution. But VR research results show potential value as part of holistic efforts across training, culture, support services, and work conditions.
Listening to Doctors
This strike indicates how dissatisfied many doctors feel with the current system. We owe it to them and their patients to listen, understand the root causes, and explore innovative ways to enact positive change. Supporting doctor wellbeing will lead to better care for us all.
What technologies or policy changes do you think could help address doctor burnout? We welcome everyone to share your perspectives and thoughts with us.