MetroDoctors Winter 2021: Physician Health & Wellbeing: COVID-19 and Beyond

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It’s OK to Not Be OK Contributed by Suzanne Jasberg, MD and Anastasia Ristau, PhD, LP

Well before COVID-19, there were already multiple crises facing our country’s healthcare sector — from high costs of care to hospital staff shortages. Now, nearly two years since the first COVID-19 case was reported in the United States, healthcare workers are exhausted, burned out, disheartened, disillusioned and unsure how much longer they can endure. And there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. At PrairieCare — one of the nation’s fastest-growing psychiatric health systems — we are seeing an exacerbation of existing mental health struggles as well as the development of new illnesses among healthcare workers. For those we treat as well as our colleagues, this seems, in part, a result of what healthcare workers are facing each day on the front lines of this pandemic. This is especially concerning when considering the hesitancy among physicians to seek care or treatment for a mental health condition because of fear of medical license repercussions.1 To do their best work in taking care of others, doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers need to take care of themselves first, starting with their mental health. Compassion fatigue at the forefront

When the pandemic began, healthcare workers were constantly discussing PPE shortages, ventilator settings and how to ration ICU beds. They were afraid — in a way that many have never experienced — that their career could harm their families if they brought the virus home. As a psychiatrist and psychologist, we watched our colleagues endure this, knowing that the psychiatric ramifications 18

Winter 2021

Suzanne Jasberg, MD

Anastasia Ristau, PhD, LP

would be next — from trauma responses and insomnia to anxiety and guilt. Healthcare workers are also challenged with fighting a constant stream of misinformation. Topics of vaccines and masks have become controversial and political. Some individuals are dismissing advice to get vaccinated or refusing to practice basic public safety measures, and down the line require care for something that is largely preventable. Some doctors are facing violent threats while trying their best to provide evidence-based medicine. And we’re all worried about protecting those who are vulnerable, including children under 12 who just recently became eligible for the vaccine. We’ve heard many doctors and nurses ask questions like, “I’m losing my faith in humanity, what do we do next?” Once the vaccine arrived, we had more hope, but our efforts are falling short and compassion fatigue has set in. These thoughts do not make us bad healthcare professionals, or bad people — we have been subjected to prolonged

trauma and these feelings are valid, and they must be addressed with care and support. Healthcare workers struggle with mental illness-related stigma, too

There’s still a stigma in this country associated with having mental illness symptoms, and an even more pervasive stigma exists for healthcare providers. We’ve heard firsthand the concerns healthcare providers have around getting mental health care, starting with fear that this could impact licensing status and ability to practice. For many years, Minnesota’s licensure application required physicians to disclose mental health conditions even if the individual is being appropriately treated and the condition does not impair their ability to practice medicine with reasonable skill and safety. Thankfully, this has recently been addressed by the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice. In September, the board unanimously

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The Journal of the Twin Cities Medical Society