Coronavirus Briefing: A Burnout Crisis

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“I left my job as an emergency medicine doctor after serving two waves. I gave everything I had. We ran out of medications. We ran out of staff. Our 12-bed I.C.U. unit had more than 60 ventilated patients. I cried with the families over the phone, of course, because they were barred from their loved ones. Then, the country made the vaccine political. I couldn’t take on the emotional burden again, knowing there was a vaccine that could prevent another inevitable surge. I served my community, my state and my country. I couldn’t emotionally take on more senseless deaths. I left the hospital with PTSD and entered a jobless market.” — Kayla Guidry, emergency medicine doctor, Brooklyn, N.Y.

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“I haven’t left yet, but I cut my hours back significantly. I hit a breaking point where I couldn’t stop crying on my days off. I dreaded work and still do.” — Whitney Hopes, registered nurse, Utah

“As a group, after two years of this pandemic, we are all suffering from PTSD. I have colleagues who gave their lives to this pandemic, others so scarred from disease that they may never work again. Very little thanks coming our way. Sometimes even scorn. It’s stressful to discover that the person in cardiac arrest that we just spent 45 minutes intubating and doing chest compressions on died of complications of Covid and rewarded my team with a massive exposure to the virus for all of their efforts to save him. He never bothered to get vaccinated. We are all pretty much fed up with this.” — Louis Cooper, attending physician, emergency medicine, New York, N.Y.

“I am a palliative care doctor and we serve the ‘end of the train’ with Covid as well as many other diseases. Although it is stressful and draining, and may ultimately take its toll on many of us, it is also critical. We need to remain devoted and compassionate to the care of patients near the end of their lives no matter what choices they have made or what got them there. We also need to support the teams of people who are taking care of these patients to reduce the degree of burnout they are experiencing.” — James Bell, M.D., Cedar Rapids, Iowa

“I had to leave my job due to developing long Covid. I realized that not only was my body a problem, but my brain processing was as well. I feared I would make a serious mistake that could impact patient outcomes. It was a terrifying experience that finally allowed me to listen to my physician’s advice to take long-term leave.” — Nicole, medical technician, Hendersonville, N.C.

“I was a nurse during the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, so I wasn’t a stranger to fearing for your life because of your job. But in both instances when I saw what my patients were going through, I couldn’t desert them. Just yesterday one of my patients reached up from his bed for my hand and I realized that he was supporting me, wanting to thank and encourage me. How can you leave when you get that almost every day?” — Lawana Kelly, registered nurse, Kansas City, Mo.

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