Burnout rates higher in physicians
Weighing in on the study, Greg S. Martin, MD, FCCP, professor of medicine in the division of pulmonary, allergy, critical care and sleep medicine, Emory University, Atlanta, noted that the differences observed between physicians and nurses may have to do with the fact that “nurses have been smoldering all along and experiencing higher rates of burnout.
“They may have adapted better to the pandemic conditions, since they are more used to working overtime and short staffed, and spending far more time at the bedside,” he said. “Because of the volume of patients, physicians may be spending more hours doing patient care and are experiencing more burnout.”
For physicians, this may be a more significant change in the workload, as well as the complexity of the situation because of the pandemic. “Many things layer into it, such as [the fact] that there are no families present to give patients support, the complexity of care of these patients, and things like lack of PPE,” Dr. Martin said.
The study did not differentiate among physician groups, so it is unclear if the affected physicians were residents, fellows, or more senior staff. “Residents are often quite busy already, and don’t usually have the capacity to add more to their schedules, and maybe attendings were having to spend more time doing patient care,” Dr. Martin said. “In the United States, at least some personnel were restricted from working with COVID-19 patients. Medical students were removed in many places as well as nonessential staff, so that may have also added to their burnout.”
The study was conducted in the Netherlands, so there may be differences in the work environment, responsibilities of nurses vs. physicians, staffing, and so on. “But it still shows that burnout is very real among doctors and nurses working in the ICU in pandemic conditions,” he said.