Almost half of health care workers reported that their mental health has gotten worse over the course of the pandemic, according to a new poll from Axios and Morning Consult—a problem that may worsen the current exodus of workers from the health care industry.
The pandemic's toll on health care workers
For the poll, Morning Consult surveyed 1,005 health care workers between Jan. 31 and Feb. 11.
Overall, 48% of health care workers said their mental health worsened during the pandemic, while 34% said the same about their physical health. In addition, more than half said that their stress level and feelings of anxiety worsened, while 42% said their feelings of depression worsened.
Many health care workers also reported their diet, sleep, exercise routines, and empathy towards patients were negatively affected during the pandemic.
In particular, health care workers who cared for Covid-19 patients were more likely to report that the pandemic worsened their health and different aspects of their lives. For example, 54% of health care workers who cared for Covid-19 patients said their mental health worsened during the pandemic compared with 42% of those who did not care for Covid-19 patients.
"I have never before in my life seen more physicians feel like they're almost on a sinking ship," said Yomna Nassef, an ED physician and a spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians. "We're universally feeling the burnout and feeling the pain right now."
More health care workers consider leaving their jobs
The poll also found that more health care workers are now considering leaving their jobs. Twenty percent of health care workers and 22% of workers who cared for Covid-19 patients said they considered leaving the health care industry, up from 15% and 19%, respectively, in July and August 2021.
Separately, a study led by the American Medical Association found that the health care industry will likely see more staff turnover as workers experience burnout and resign. In the study, 23.8% of physicians, 40% of nurses, and 33% of advanced practice providers said the likelihood of leaving their practice within the next two years was moderate, likely, or definite.
In November 2021, the health care and social assistance industry had 52,000 resignations—the second largest number of resignations that month, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In response to the record-breaking number of resignations in the health care industry, American Hospital Association president and CEO Rick Pollack called for action to help support and grow the U.S. health care workforce, including scrutinizing nurse staffing agency prices and lifting the cap on Medicare-funded physician residencies.
"A recent analysis shows there will be a shortage of up to 3.2 million health care workers by 2026," Pollack said. "These shortages, combined with an aging population, a rise in chronic diseases and increased behavioral health conditions, all contribute to a national emergency that demands immediate attention from health care leaders and policymakers at every level of government." (Reed, Axios, 2/15; Galvin, Morning Consult, 10/4/21 ; Galvin, Morning Consult, 10/4/21 ; Morning Consult poll, 2/2022)