New Delhi: The Covid-19 pandemic has severely affected the mental and emotional well-being of doctors, with female physicians and those in critical care and infectious disease reporting among the highest rates of burnout during the pandemic, according to findings from a new report.
The ‘Death by 1,000 Cuts: Medscape National Physician Burnout and Suicide Report 2021′ shows that although burnout rates were stable from the previous year’s report, at 42 per cent overall, the level in women increased from 48 per cent to 51 per cent during the pandemic, while burnout in male physicians overall remained unchanged from 2019.
“Many women physicians are in families with children at home. It’s already known that women assume more responsibilities in the home than do men. The pressures have increased during Covid-19: having to be their child’s teacher during homeschooling; no childcare; and the grandparents can’t babysit. Those all bring enormous pressure and burdens. In addition, all doctors and nurses are worried about bringing the virus home to their families,” says US-based psychiatrist Carol Bernstein in the report.
Burnout and the stress of the pandemic (personal risk, social distancing, financial uncertainty) appeared to diminish physicians’ overall work life happiness, with only 49 per cent reporting they were happy in 2020 versus 69 per cent pre-pandemic.
More than one-third reported feeling unhappy last year, compared with 19 per cent in 2019. Shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), difficult conditions, long hours, grief over losing patients, and watching patients’ families suffer added a layer of extreme stress and exhaustion for many frontline workers, suggests the report.
Nearly three quarters of millennial physicians (25-39) and GenXrs (40-54) and two-thirds of boomers (55-73) said burnout has had a negative effect on their personal relationships, says the report based on responses from over 12,000 physicians. Burnout is described as long-term, unresolved, job-related stress leading to exhaustion, cynicism, detachment from job responsibilities, and lacking a sense of personal accomplishment.
Of the 20 per cent of physicians who said they were depressed, one in five reported clinical depression, and more than two-thirds said they felt down (colloquial depression) during 2020. Of those reporting depression, 13 per cent said they experienced suicidal thoughts, and 1 per cent attempted suicide.
“More than one-third of all physicians who report depression say it leads them to be more easily exasperated with patients, 24 per cent are less careful when taking patient notes and 15 per cent said depression results in them making errors they would otherwise not make,” says the Medscape report.