Cover Story by Casey L . Penn
Fighting More Than the Virus
Are You Keeping a Check on Your Mental Health During the Ongoing Pandemic ?
Burnout has long been an issue for physicians , nurses , and other health care workers . In 2017 , 43.9 % of physicians surveyed ( 2147 of 4893 ) exhibited at least one symptom of professional burnout , according to a study whose authors work from Mayo , Stanford , and the AMA .* In “ normal ” situations , burnout is often brought on by exhaustion , a lack of work-life balance , increased work demands , and changes to the health care system .
But add a long-continuing pandemic to that , and burnout becomes even more likely . For roughly a year now , COVID-19 has amplified the normal triggers and added a variety of new stressors to health care ’ s already high-demand working environment . “ Some say ‘ we ’ re all in the same boat ,’” explained Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs at the UAMS College of Medicine Erick Messias , MD , MPH , Ph . D . “ Some correctly say , ‘ we ’ re all in the same storm , but in different boats .’
“ This storm has affected medicine in diverse ways . Some , like emergency medical physicians and infectious disease physicians , have seen an increased workload . Others ,
EricK Messias , MD , MPH , PhD particularly those dealing with non-emergency and so-called ‘ elective ’ procedures , have seen a marked decrease in workload . The group with more work has dealt with increased fear of contamination – not only of themselves but of their families and other patients . The group with less work has had to worry about consequences for patients postponing visits or procedures .”
Dr . Messias has devoted years to understanding the issue of professional burnout in medicine . A psychiatrist and epidemiologist , he presented an in-depth lecture on Physician Wellness and Burnout during the 2019 AMS Annual Session . He shared enlightening statistics on burnout and discussed solutions centered on finding meaning , purpose , and control in one ’ s work ( see July 2019 Journal .)
Recently , he addressed the shifts that the challenges of this last year have brought to this topic . “ In some ways , the pandemic has improved well-being and burnout ; it has made the sense of purpose we have in health care very clear ,” he began . “ It has made society value what we do in a much more open way .
For instance , we have seen increased interest not only in medical school applicants but also in health care professions overall , from what some are calling The Fauci Effect . Not just Fauci , but all of us are being seen , in one way or another , as the people taking care of this terrible situation .”
“ On the negative side , people are overworked and afraid . There are conspiracy theories about doctors , vaccines , and infections . So , we have the extra burden of taking care of more acutely ill patients , working with public health officials to address public health measures , and educating the public to address ru-
198 • The Journal of the Arkansas Medical Society www . ArkMed . org