COVID-19 added to pressures that physicians face
by Stephen J. Grindel, DO —
Many physicians struggled with stress and burnout before COVID-19. A 2019 survey of MSSC members by the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita found that nearly half of Wichita-area physicians experienced signs of burnout. But COVID-19 placed additional pressures on physicians, as reflected in a new KUSM-W survey.
Rick Kellerman, MD, Colleen Loo-Gross, MD, and Samuel Ofei-Dodoo, PhD, at KUSM-W surveyed family physicians in Kansas in May and June 2020. The study results were published recently in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.
The study showed burnout was higher in physicians caring for presumed or confirmed COVID cases than in physicians not treating COVID patients (63% of respondents vs. 30%). Emotional exhaustion was three times more likely in physicians treating patients with presumed or confirmed COVID-19. The study also noted concerns with patient volume loss and family exposure to the virus.
Though stress was greater on those working directly with COVID-19 patients, other physicians also faced strains from the pandemic, including financial pressures caused by canceled procedures and appointments. A national survey found that 80% of primary care physicians reported at least one manifestation of professional burnout since the COVID-19 outbreak.
There are many different strategies for combating stress and burnout. Some are individual, self-care focused. Others target institutional systems and processes.
Therapy can be important, too. During the early months of the pandemic, MSSC created a list of area psychiatrists and psychologists who were willing to see MSSC members and their staff who wanted some assistance. MSSC Past President Dr. Patricia Wyatt-Harris, MD, wrote an excellent column last year about the need to watch for signs of burnout in ourselves and our colleagues.
The biggest boost for many was the rollout of the vaccines. Many people felt a surge of relief and hope when they received the vaccine. The reopening of society also is lifting spirits. I’m enjoying being able to eat out and have in-person meetings.
Another valuable way to combat burnout is connecting socially with peers. It helps to be with others who understand the demands of our jobs. MSSC helps facilitate these connections.
MSSC hosted a great event this month for young physicians at a Wind Surge baseball game. Demand was so high that we “sold out” of our block of tickets. The next all-member event will be Sept. 14 at Wichita State University and will feature WSU’s new president, Richard Muma, and the new president and CEO of the Kansas Health Foundation, Teresa Miller. I hope to see you there.
A physician’s job is demanding and stressful – even without a pandemic. Coming together helps lift us all.