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Provider Burnout During COVID-19: Caring for Oneself While Caring for Others

Health care professionals are on the front lines of an unprecedented global pandemic. Whether caring directly for COVID-19-infected individuals or managing socially-distanced patients, providers are navigating new waters and drawing upon their inner strength to serve others.

On June 10th, Aspenti Health hosted a round table webinar identifying resources and techniques to mitigate provider burnout and support well-being during these challenging times. The webinar was led by Vanessa Clark, Senior VP of Operations at Aspenti Health, Jill Warrington, MD, PhD and Chief Medical Officer at Aspenti Health. Jill is also an Assistant Professor of Pathology at UVMHN. We also hosted special guest speaker, Anya Koutras, MD and Associate Professor of Family Medicine at UVMHN.

During the webinar, the following objectives were explored:

  • Consider the reason providers choose a career in medicine & the challenges they encounter today in practice. ​
  • Define and describe signs of burnout and specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Consider the risks and outcomes of provider burnout individually and within the community
  • Discuss tools and strategies to prevent and address burnout

“Burnout is an erosion of the soul caused by a deterioration of one’s values, dignity, spirit and will.”(I) Up to 50% of all providers are experiencing burnout at any given time. A survey of over 7,000 physicians reported that 1 in 50 planned to leave medicine altogether in the next 2 years, while 1 in 5 planned to reduce clinical hours over the next year(2). In that same survey, 46% of the responders reported at least one burnout symptom. In 2017, volume of medical school applications dropped by 14,000 (AAMC) with predictions of staggering physician shortage by 2030.

What are the top causes of burnout?

The practice of clinical medicine. ​We take care of hurt, sick, scared, dying people and their families, every day. We witness and help with the most difficult and challenging aspects of our communities.​

Your specific job. ​Limited or even lack of resources for patients, third party interference with treatment plans, electronic health record issues, patient population quality measures and other non-direct patient care related stressors in our work weigh us down naturally.​

Having a life. ​We don’t live in bubbles and we are accountable to others (and ourselves) outside of our work. We’ve been trained since medical school to do this “when time allows.”​

The conditioning of our medical education. ​“The patient comes first.” Many of us have not learned, seen modeled or have practiced how to FIRST take care of ourselves outside and inside of our work to do a better job of putting the patient first.

How can we mitigate burnout?

Begin the day with taking care of yourself. ​

Get plenty of rest, eat well, be active and engage in activities that fill you with joy. ​

Be kind and patient with yourself. ​

Be forgiving and understanding with yourself.​

Be the healer to yourself before healing others.

When we learn to lead, listen, learn, let go, and love we are helping ourselves which in turn, helps patients.

“The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention…A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well -intentioned words” said Rachel Naomi Remen.

References:

  • Drummond D. Physician Burnout: It’s Origin, Symptoms and Five Main Causes. Fam Pract Manag. 2015 Sept-Oct; 22(5):42-47​
  • Mock J. Frontline Trauma: Medical Workers are Society’s New Heroes. What Happens When the Acute Crisis is Over. Scientific American. June 2020: 36-39​
  • Medscape National Physician Burnout and Suicide Report 2020: The Generational Divide; January 15, 2020

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