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Exhaustion in health care has never been more real. Is it repairable?


“Thank you” seems truthful to say to those facing a global pandemic, but that can’t be said enough. As we slowly begin to return to “normal,” it’s easy to see how the tireless work of front-line health care workers across the country helped us come here.

This virus has caused unreasonable pain and suffering. And tolls would have been much worse if health care workers hadn’t done their best to keep the distorting health care infrastructure at bay.

At the height of the pandemic, health workers felt helpless in the face of elevated deaths. The capacity of the hospital was approaching its fracture site. Doctors, nurses, and other health care workers had unprecedented cases. They stretched themselves incredibly thin to get us to the other side.

Victim of burning

Before the pandemic, studies showed that the burning of doctors had decreased. In early 2020, things looked promising. 42 percent of doctors suffered a burn, compared to 46 percent in 2015.

But when COVID-19 hit, it stopped progress. The pandemic forced medical professionals to work harder and longer, often without seeing their loved ones.

Result? Emotional exhaustion and the transition from empathy to cynical or numbness. Understandably, this can affect doctor-patient relationships and interfere with quality patient care.

Burning outside a clinic or hospital makes some health professionals feel depressed or struggling with their personal relationships.

One North Carolina employee, Linda Neufang’s Blue Cross and Blue Shield, spoke about the taxes her sister faced as an ER nurse.

“She felt friends and family were afraid to touch her or be around her,” Linda said. “It was kind of a defining moment for me in just a small look at what our healthcare workers were doing.”

Of course, the effects are not limited to doctors and nurses. All health care workers – pharmacists, laboratory technicians, researchers, therapists and the other 14.3 million health workers across the country – faced significant challenges.


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