Coronavirus and Physician Burnout Are Adding Fuel to the Fire

Physician burnout is of increasing concern in the wake of the pandemic

The World Health Organization has been on the tips of many tongues in 2020, as the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the globe. Equipped to handle issues of international and public health, it has been associated with several programs over the years, including the creation of the International Agency for Research on Cancer to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, and more.

It is consistently working to improve the delivery of medical care, as well as better understand issues pertaining to public health, as evidenced by its work to maintain the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), a diagnostic tool for epidemiology and disease classification. Similar to other diagnostic tools such as the DSM, it is one that has been frequently updated over the years to reflect the latest research.

One of the more recent updates to the ICD saw a more thorough classification of the concept of ‘burnout’, for example. It is now recognized as a syndrome, resultant from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. It is important to note that this applies explicitly to an occupational context. Burnout is something that can be seen across a wide array of industries; however, physician burnout is one that is of increasing concern in the wake of the pandemic.

As many states and cities across the globe are seeing new surges in coronavirus cases, hospitals and healthcare providers continue to grapple with the dynamics of the pandemic. Many are facing shortages of essential Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies, despite being months into the pandemic.

Although some supply chains for different goods have adjusted, the healthcare industry is still plagued by deficiencies. This has critical implications. Without the needed supplies, healthcare providers risk unnecessary exposure for themselves, their patients, and their families. This, coupled with the increased amount of patients, is a recipe for stress, and eventual burnout, for many physicians.

Medscape’s 2020 ‘National Physician Burnout & Suicide Report’ found that 42% of the 15,000 physicians surveyed reported being burned out. Half of those surveyed said they would give up at least $20,000 in annual income to reduce their working hours. This was released in January, just months before the WHO had declared the novel coronavirus a global pandemic. The situation has only become worse, as hospitals are often understaffed or otherwise ill-equipped to handle the new demands on the healthcare system as a result of COVID-19.

Physicians are combatting the novel coronavirus, as well as fighting for their mental wellness. It is essential that we raise awareness of mental health for everyone, especially for those upon whom we all rely on our well-being. Doctors around the world are thankfully taking notes and researching ways to help provide interventions to help ease the burden. For the sake of all providers and their patients, let us hope this sheds more light on the issue and leads to actionable change.


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Dr. James Goydos
Dr. James Goydos
James Goydos, M.D., F.A.C.S – Physician and surgeon specializing in Surgical Oncology. Experienced Professor of Surgery with a demonstrated history of working in the hospital & healthcare industry. Research has translated into clinical trials for patients with melanoma. Recognized for leadership in patient care by the Melanoma Research Foundation and The Cancer Institute of New Jersey (CINJ). Currently serve on the editorial board of the journal Clinical Cancer Research. Doctor of Medicine from Rutgers, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
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