Exhaustion. Defeat. Hopelessness. Physicians, nurses, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners are overwhelmed with burnout.
The recent round of COVID-19 is more frustrating than the first, with scientific evidence supporting ways we can prevent disease and disease progression. The health care team is no longer viewed as heroes but as the enemy, fraudulently proposing a vaccine and painting a fictional story of death, though it’s all true. The daily educational battle with patients and family members creates a challenging environment that cultivates hopelessness.
Clinicians are physically exhausted from the numerous COVID cases. Gone are the medical patients we trained for, who either remain home and risk their health or lack access to medical providers because of excessive wait times. Empathy for COVID patients is being tested even more with this new surge, and without the two-way bond of trust, clinicians are running out of fuel. Anger and distrust regarding vaccination guidance dominate the interaction when patients present demanding urgent intervention, while clinicians know that more than 95% of hospitalized patients are unvaccinated.
The struggle to find the commitment to medicine and serving patients is made worse by the pandemic fog and loss of trust from patients. Every day, health care teams risk their personal well-being to provide medical care and intervention. Not by choice do we gown up, mask up, and glove up. Each time we enter a COVID patient’s room, we expose ourselves and risk our own lives and the lives of our families for the patients who have elected to ignore medical guidance.
This national wave of resistance to vaccination is spurring an exodus from health care. Physicians are retiring early and physician assistants and nurse practitioners are seeking non–patient-facing positions to improve their own wellness and balance. A national nursing shortage is impacting patients seeking care in every medical discipline. The underlying wave of exhaustion and frustration has not completely destroyed their empathy but has depleted their drive.
How can we regain this drive amid exhausting work hours and angry patients?
As much as we have heard it, we need to protect our time to recharge. The demand to pick up extra shifts and support our colleagues has affected our personal health. Setting boundaries and building time for exercise, meditation, and connecting with family is essential for survival. Mental health is key to retaining empathy and finding hope. Education is one path to reigniting the fires of critical thinking and commitment to patient care – consider precepting students to support the growth of health care teams. Memories of patient care before this pandemic give us the hope that there is light at the end of this tunnel.
Dr. Gadalla is a hospitalist at Treasure Coast Hospitalists in Port St. Lucie, Fla. She is a member of the Hospitalist’s editorial advisory board and also serves as a physician assistant program director at South University in West Palm Beach, Fla. She disclosed no relevant financial relationships. A version of this article first appeared on Medscape.com.