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COVID-19 burnout

Care providers need to look after themselves as well as others

Howard Larkin

Posted: Monday, November 16, 2020

While physicians are conditioned to manage pressure from their earliest training, the added stress of COVID-19 is creating a burden that is pushing many past their ability to cope. So much so that AAO CEO David W Parke II MD regularly hears from colleagues who are burned out or depressed, including one who was suicidal, he reported at AAO 2020 Virtual.

It’s part of a broader problem in medicine, said Saul Levin MD, CEO and medical director of the American Psychiatric Association. “Our health system was broken before but now it is severely broken.”
The pandemic is taking an even greater toll on Black and Latinex minorities who have less access to care in the best of times, he added.

Dr Levin pointed out that care providers need to look after themselves as well as others – and reach out when they are feeling burned out or depressed. Even taking part in social hour calls at meetings such as the AAO Virtual can help. He recommended that everyone stop and consider who they can reach out to when they are feeling stressed, and pointed out some warning signs to watch for.

If you hear a colleague – or yourself – say “I feel like I can’t go on,” take it as a sign of impending burnout or even depression, which often go together, Dr Levin said. “If you hear someone say ‘I want to die,’ do not get off the phone.” Make sure your colleague has someone to talk to, and make a contract with them that they will not do anything until the next morning.

Recommend a spouse or counsellor or suicide hotline, but do not ignore it. Stay in regular contact, even if it feels awkward.
“It takes great courage,” but it does help, Dr Levin said.