Cartoon – Pandemic Stages of Grief

Cartoon by Sally-Covid 19 Pandemic Stages of Grief |

“We’ve jumped past burnout to anger”

What coronavirus is doing to stressed US health workers – and why ...

Last week we wrote about an observation from some physician leaders that, paradoxically, physician burnout seemed to have waned a bit during the COVID crisis. They felt that, as clinicians rallied to provide care for patients during the pandemic, many found new purpose in the work, despite great challenges. Bureaucratic hurdles yielded to the need to make critical decisions quickly, as did regulatory barriers to telemedicine.

The piece sparked a number of doctors, most from regions now experiencing surges, to share their alternative viewpoints with us.

One employed physician wrote that, across specialties, he and his colleagues are angry. They don’t feel protected, either financially, or even for their own physical safety.

A nurse practitioner working long shifts in an emergency department overloaded with COVID patients wrote, “In April, I would have never believed that we would be scrounging for PPE at the end of July. How could this happen?” And a nephrologist redeployed to a COVID ICU shared: “With the surge in New York, it felt like the entire country was behind their doctors and nurses. I drive home past restaurants and stores filled with people refusing to wear masks. It’s so demoralizing.”

Several expressed that their employers, both health systems and payers, are “counting on our goodwill that we’ll just keep showing up.” But once the crisis passes, there may be “drastic and irrational physician revolts. Someone should be watching for it.”

These comments reveal a marked difference in physician sentiment in different parts of the country, based both on the severity of the pandemic, and the nature of the local response.  Regardless, we’d agree that the clinical workforce, both doctors and nurses, is working through a period of unprecedented stress, and for some, emotional trauma. Ensuring their stability and safety must be a top priority for every health system and medical group.