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Critical Values is the go-to resource for the entire laboratory team, providing insight and information on the latest research, information, and issues within pathology and laboratory medicine. The print and online magazine invites submissions on topics including, but not limited to, advocacy, education, technology, global health, workforce, workplace best practices, and leadership.

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Critical Values Staff

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Our Recent Articles

Tackling DEI Burnout in the Laboratory

Jul 2, 2024, 00:19 AM by Jordan Rosenfeld

Burnout in the workplace is a problem that spans almost every industry, so it should be no surprise that it also rears its head in the laboratory workforce. However, according to a study published in February 2024 in AJCP,1 there’s a unique kind of burnout affecting laboratory professionals and pathologists that is cause for alarm and intervention: Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) related burnout.  

How burnout differs from stress 

Joseph Sirintrapun, MD, Clinical Director of Digital Pathology at Mass General Brigham and one of the study authors, likens burnout to a “chronic disease,” and a “persistent state” of not having enough and in which people do not have enough energy, motivation, stamina, and so on to meet the demands of work. Those experiencing burnout have self-doubt and pessimism. 

Stress, on the other hand (which can be a contributing factor to burnout) is an “experience of too much—for instance too much demand, effort, responsibility,” Dr. Sirintrapun says.  

While stress may be relieved by breaks and vacations, burnout is a lot harder to mitigate, and requires strategies for intervention and changes in workplace culture, the authors suggest.  

For example, the study authors write, “Representation burnout occurs when an individual is the only person of a particular demographic in a group and feels the pressure to represent the entire demographic.”  

“So if you’re the only female on the board of directors, or the only underrepresented person, that can create isolation and exhaustion,” Lotte Mulder, PhD, Director of Leadership and Empowerment at the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP), and the study’s lead author, says. This leads to burnout, especially when this occurs frequently or consistently.  

DEI related burnout of this type can be even harder to mitigate if the circumstances that caused that burnout don’t change, Dr. Mulder explained. 

DEI burnout 

The very things that make people unique can also lead to burnout in the workforce, and this hits some demographics in the laboratory harder than others.  

The types of discrimination that contribute to burnout the most in the study respondents, Dr. Mulder says, were age, gender, cultural, race, and national origin.  

Though 75 percent of the study’s respondents were Caucasian women, and women do experience burnout related to being a minority among men, the demographics that expressed the most burnout related to DEI were Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).  

Eleven percent of all survey respondents reported experiencing burnout related to lack of diversity, 22 percent to lack of inclusion and 31 percent to lack of equity. However, when only BIPOC individuals answered, those numbers rose steeply to 23 percent, 34 percent, and 45 percent respectively. 

“If you don’t have a feeling of belonging, if you don’t have safety—physically, mentally, or emotionally—if you don’t have a feeling of an equitable workplace and all of the things you need in order to thrive, those contribute to burnout,” Dr. Mulder says. 

Laboratory professionals’ feelings of burnout are also exacerbated by the fact that it is often an “invisible” profession. “A lot of people don’t know about pathology,” Dr. Mulder says. “A sense of belonging creates a sense of recognition not only just within the field but outside of the field. We need to look at what we are doing to really celebrate our laboratory workers continuously, not just in dire situations when there’s a global pandemic.” 

DEI across groups

It’s not enough to simply address DEI burnout in the laboratory workforce, Dr. Sirintrapun insists, but rather to “realize it affects demographic groups differently, and to precisely intervene depending on that.”  

Dr. Sirintrapun calls this intersection of DEI and burnout “multifaceted,” pointing out that different demographic groups are affected differently by how they relate to DEI efforts. “So, for instance, LGBTQ groups, and even different generations, such as millenials and Generation Z, are more likely to experience mental health symptoms for longer durations.” 

Other considerations may be at play, too. “Black and Latinx employees are more likely to leave their jobs for mental health reasons,” Dr. Sirintrapun says, 50% as compared to just 32 percent of Caucasian workers.  

Additionally, when asked if even talking about burnout was considered an acceptable professional issue in the participant’s ethnic culture, BIPOC individuals answered “no” more than Caucasian respondents. 

Because this survey took place during the pandemic, it was also difficult to separate out the effects of that time, where workload demands were higher than ever for laboratory professionals and pathologists, Dr. Sirintrapun says.  

He says that interventions need to be tailored to the demographic dealing with a particular kind of DEI-related burnout to have the best chances of mitigating the effects. 

The importance of organizational culture 

A key factor in DEI burnout is organizational culture, Dr. Sirintrapun says, where conditions such as increased workload, poor management culture, gaslighting, unclear job roles, pressure to conform, and other stressors can contribute to burnout.  

Dr. Mulder adds that an “overall lack of awareness of the impact that DEI has on burnout” is another barrier to improving the problem. 

She added that change “[S]tarts with awareness in leadership. Ultimately, we need to create the change in organizational cultures and increase diversity. Developing workplaces where people feel they can be themselves and bring up health issues and create trauma-informed leadership across the board is going to take time.” 

Dr Sirintrapun adds, “If you’re an organization that wants to make a change, you really need to understand DEI and tailor your interventions particularly to different groups.”  

Addressing DEI-related burnout in the laboratory will be even more essential in the near future, with the mass exodus of millions of baby boomers from the field due to retirement. The millennials and Gen Z who will take their place experience stress and burnout differently than their older colleagues, Dr. Sintrapun says. 

There will not be an overnight solution, but Dr. Mulder stresses the importance of collaboration and data sharing to address these workforce issues and promote DEI initiatives. 

“Pathology and laboratory medicine is such a collaborative field, and this is another great way that we can share data and really dive into certain data points to create those interventions,” she says. 

Prioritizing mental health, mutual respect, and a culture that supports wellness will go a long way toward ameliorating some of these burnout problems, Dr. Mulder and her study cohort suggest. 


1. Mulder, Lotte, et al. “Examining the role of diversity, equity, and inclusion in mitigating workforce burnout in laboratory medicine.” Am J Clin Pathol 2024 Feb 1;161(2):130-139.  doi: 10.1093/ajcp/aqad123.