More than a year into the coronavirus pandemic, some three in 10 healthcare workers say they have considered leaving the profession due to burnout and stress, a nationally representative survey out Thursday indicates.
The survey, conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) and the Washington Post, revealed that roughly half of all healthcare workers are burned out, while about six in 10 say stress brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has harmed their mental health.
The poll was based on interviews with over 1,300 healthcare workers from Feb. 11 through March 7. Non-profit organization KFF helped develop, analyze and finance the survey.
Nearly half of all respondents said the pandemic has had a negative impact on their relationships with their family members. When asked what was the hardest part of working given the pandemic, the most prevalent responses involved being worried about becoming infected or infecting others.
Still, 76 percent said they felt “hopeful” about going to work while 67 percent said they felt “optimistic.” But while the majority of healthcare workers felt that the general public and patients they encountered showed them respect, six in 10 said Americans were not taking enough precautions to curb the spread of the virus.
In addition, the majority of the respondents were not satisfied with the United States’ pandemic response. Seven in 10 said the U.S. did a “poor” or “only fair” job of handling the pandemic.
Healthcare workers are burned out
When the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. last summer, exponentially increasing infections and surging hospitalizations put an immense strain on the healthcare system. Healthcare workers were suddenly scrambling to care for tens of thousands of patients, with some even landing in intensive care units (ICUs).
Hospitals were also forced to scale back their services to ensure enough staff to handle severely ill patients. Medical administrators also turned to short-term travel nurses and called for volunteers to fill gaps.
As cases continued to rise, healthcare workers began to experience burnout. Burnout is the state of mental, physical and emotional exhaustion caused by work-related stressors, such as long hours and the burden of caring for patients who may have poor outcomes.
The longer a healthcare worker faces these compounding factors, he or she may start to feel detached from their work. If the situation isn’t addressed, burnout can lead to hopelessness, cynicism and depression. (Related: Reducing burnout and stress symptoms with rhodiola.)
“Most of us got into this to save lives,” said Megan Brunson, a Dallas nurse. “But when death is blowing around you like a tornado and you can’t make a dent in any of it, it makes you question whether you’re making any difference.”
And those feelings of doubt have already led some workers to leave. Kevin Fitzpatrick, an emergency room nurse at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan, said several experienced nurses have quit last March to work in hospice or home care or at outpatient clinics. And replacing them isn’t easy.
But the KFF survey didn’t show anything new. Healthcare workers have shared similar sentiments over the last couple of months. Last December, a survey from Mental Health America (MHA) showed that 93 percent of healthcare workers reported experiencing stress. Another 86 percent reported experiencing anxiety, 77 percent reported frustration, 76 percent reported exhaustion and burnout and 75 percent said they were overwhelmed.
More than three-quarters of healthcare workers with children said they were worried about exposing their child or children to COVID-19. Nearly half were worried about exposing their spouse or partner and 47 percent were worried about exposing their older adult family members.
When asked to identify their top three work-related stressors, 61 percent reported uncertainty about when things will return to normal, 54 percent reported burnout and 49 percent reported heavy workload.
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