As vaccine rates tick towards herd immunity and governments reveal plans of a post-pandemic summer filled with travel and gatherings, nurses and doctors trying to help COVID-19 patients are likely looking towards some serious rest.
A new study from the University of British Columbia, released Friday (June 11), is shedding light on physician burnout and the concerning need to address it.
Burnout is characterized by emotional exhaustion and depersonalization—which is a lack of care about the work. It also affects workers’ sense of personal accomplishment.
Researchers from UBC’s faculty of medicine surveyed 302 internal medicine physicians from two Vancouver-based hospitals between August and October 2020, and found burnout prevalent among 68 per cent of doctors. A further 20 per cent said that they had either considered quitting the profession or already left a position.
Pre-pandemic, physician burnout was already on the rise before tripling the odds in the past year and a half, according to Dr. Nadia Khan, research lead and medical professor.
Increased bureaucracy – doing more so-called “non-physician work” – the sheer number of patients being seen, and the increased number of extended weekend and evening shifts have taken a toll on physicians, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers suspect.
“I think that this issue is not unique to just these two hospitals. It is widespread. I would say global,” Khan said. “It’s also not just amongst physicians but likely affecting other healthcare workers.”
From those surveyed, burnout was prevalent among 71 per cent of women compared to 64 per cent of men. It was found to be highest (74 per cent) among younger physicians between 36 to 50 years old.
Women were two times more likely to report emotional exhaustion and feeling less personal accomplishment, while visible minority physicians had 1.8 times higher odds of feeling low personal accomplishment in comparison to white respondents.
So why is burnout such a concern?
“We know physicians who are burned out are more likely to make medical errors regardless of work unit safety measures,” Khan explained, adding that physicians have one of the highest suicide rates of any profession.
It also comes at a cost to tax payers, with early retirement and tired physicians reducing clinical hours, equating roughly $200 million, according to a separate study.
The findings highlight the need to focus more on mental health and the working conditions in the healthcare industry, the researchers concluded.
“Physicians don’t have time to work on solutions to make patient care better when they are just barely getting by,” Khan said.
“We need to create a sustainable workforce because a more sustainable and thriving healthcare system means better quality of care for patients.”
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