“Thank you” seems like a trite thing to say to those who faced a global pandemic head-on, but it cannot be said enough. As we start to slowly start to return to “normal,” it’s easy to see how the tireless work of frontline health care workers across the country helped to get us here.
This virus has caused unconscionable pain and suffering. And the toll would have been much worse if not for health care workers doing everything they could to keep a buckling health care infrastructure from caving in.
At the height of the pandemic health care workers felt helpless in the face of a climbing death toll. Hospital capacities were nearing their breaking point. Doctors, nurses, and other health care workers faced unprecedented caseloads. They stretched themselves incredibly thin to get us to the other side.
The toll of burnout
Before the pandemic, surveys showed that burnout among physicians had been dropping. At the beginning of 2020, things looked promising. Burnout affected 42% of physicians, down from 46% in 2015.
But when COVID-19 hit, it halted that progress. The pandemic forced medical professionals to work harder and longer, often without seeing loved ones.
The result? Emotional exhaustion and a shift from empathy to feeling cynical or numb. Understandably, this can impact doctor-patient relationships and can interfere with quality patient care.
Outside of the clinic or hospital, burnout causes some health professionals to feel depressed or struggle with their personal relationships.
One Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina employee, Linda Neufang, shared about the toll her sister faced as an ER nurse.
“She felt like friends and family were afraid to touch her or be around her,” Linda said. “That was kind of a defining moment for me in just a small glimpse into what our health care workers were dealing with.”
Of course, the effects are not limited to doctors and nurses. All health care workers–pharmacists, lab technicians, scientists, therapists, and all other 14.3 million health care workers across the country–faced significant challenges.