COVID-19 Pandemic has Exacerbated Burnout Among Health Care Workers, Study Finds

Article

An analysis of survey data from more than 50 health care workers in Massachusetts offers insight into the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic

Rebecca Perkins, MD | Credit: American Cancer Society

Rebecca Perkins, MD
Credit: American CancerCancer Society

Data from a study of healthcare providers confirm what many in the field already knew as reality: the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated burnout in the medical community.

A mixed methods study including healthcare providers in Massachusetts, results of the study suggest more than half of all respondents reported a decrease in mental health, with nearly 30% reporting a new or worsening mental health condition and 37% now expecting to leave the field in the next 5 years.1

“These findings highlight the far-reaching impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said lead investigator Rebecca Perkins, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Boston University Chobanian and Avedisian School of Medicine.2 “Staffing shortages prevent healthcare workers from taking the best care of their patients, leading to moral injury. Bringing health-care leadership and frontline workers together is essential if we are to solve this problem.”

Although the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 pandemic no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern in early May, it has become obvious to the medical community, and general public alike, the effects of COVID-19 will be felt for decades.3 Perkins, who also serves as an obstetrician and gynecologist at Boston Medical Center, has witnessed the effects of the pandemic from the frontlines of the health system.

With this in mind, Perkins and a team of colleagues designed the current study with the intent of providing a snapshot of the current state of mental health among health care providers through surveys and interviews. Per trial protocol, participants took part in one-on-one qualitative interviews followed by a cross-sectional online survey. Investigators pointed out all interviews occurred from April 22-September 7, 2021.

In total, the study cohort included 52 interview participants. The cohort of 52 ranged in age from 22-74 years old, 79% were female, and 56% were White. The majority of these patricians were physicians (37%), advanced practice providers (15%), or nurses (10%). The most common place of employment were hospitals (46%) or outpatient clinics (33%). Investigators pointed out this cohort represented several different specialties, included obstetrics/gynecology (21%), emergency medicine (17%), and ICU or critical care specialists (8%).1

Upon analysis of survey results, Investigators found interviewees report high levels of stress and anxiety due to levels of frequent exposure to patient deaths from COVID-19. Specifically, 55% of respondents reported worse mental health than before the pandemic, 29% reported a new or worsening mental health condition for themselves or their family, and 59% reported feeling burned out at least once a week. Investigators also highlighted 37% of respondents reported an intention to leave healthcare within the next 5 years.1

“Before this year you were able to come in hold your loved ones …, and it was a soul crushing to see people just like, die alone in a room with therapists, a nurse holding their hand … that was tough to do repeatedly,” reads a response highlighted by investigators.1

When assessing responses on ideas for decreasing attrition among healthcare providers, results indicated higher salaries (91%), flexible schedules (90%), and increased support to care for patients (89%) were common responses.1

“The mental health of your doctor, nurse etc. impacts the quality of care they can provide. Reductions in health-care staff will negatively impact the patient experience and the quality of care that patients receive,” adds Perkins, who also is an obstetrician & gynecologist at Boston Medical Center.2

References:

  1. Burrowes SAB, Casey SM, Pierre-Joseph N, et al. COVID-19 pandemic impacts on mental health, burnout, and longevity in the workplace among healthcare workers: A mixed methods study. J Interprof Educ Pract. 2023;32:100661. doi:10.1016/j.xjep.2023.100661
  2. BU Medicine. Covid-19 pandemic responsible for high rates of burnout among health-care workers. EurekAlert! June 13, 2023. Accessed June 15, 2023. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/992363.
  3. Statement on the fifteenth meeting of the IHR (2005) Emergency Committee on the COVID-19 pandemic. World Health Organization. May 5, 2023. Accessed June 15, 2023. https://www.who.int/news/item/05-05-2023-statement-on-the-fifteenth-meeting-of-the-international-health-regulations-(2005)-emergency-committee-regarding-the-coronavirus-disease-(covid-19)-pandemic.
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