The Mental Health of Healthcare Workers in COVID-19

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Sadia Khalid, early-stage researcher (ESRs), medical writer and specialist at Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech), Estonia. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writers and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on healthcare systems worldwide, and the aftereffects of the pandemic will continue to be felt for years to come. Healthcare providers have been at the forefront of the response to the pandemic, working tirelessly to care for patients and contain the spread of the virus, often at great personal risk. The pandemic has put enormous pressure on healthcare providers, and it is likely that the after-effects of this pressure will be felt for some time.

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged and excessive stress. Healthcare workers have been under immense pressure since the start of the pandemic, with many working long hours, dealing with high patient volumes, and facing a constant threat of infection. The toll of this stress can be devastating, leading to symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety, depression, and a sense of hopelessness.

A new report by commercial intelligence company Definitive Healthcare has revealed that a staggering 333,942 healthcare providers quit their jobs in 2021. The report attributed pandemic-related factors such as burnout, heavy patient loads, long hours, and personal health concerns as major reasons for leaving. A significant number of workers also retired. Of the total number of providers who left their jobs, approximately 117,000 were physicians, with the highest number leaving internal medicine (15,000), family practice (13,015), and clinical psychology (10,874). Additionally, 53,295 nurse practitioners and 22,704 physician assistants left their jobs. The report also found that since 2020, one in five healthcare workers has quit their jobs, and surveys suggest that up to 47% of healthcare workers plan to leave their positions by 2025.

It is important to remember that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over yet. While some countries have seen improvements in case numbers and vaccination rates, the pandemic is still ongoing globally. Many countries continue to report high numbers of cases and deaths, and new virus variants continue to emerge. Yes, the pandemic did begin to recede in some parts of the world, But Healthcare staff are still overworked, and it is critical to address the issue of burnout in healthcare workers.

Healthcare worker’s challenges during COVID were no secret. The challenges that aggregate the already overwhelmed healthcare staff were shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), overwhelming patient volumes, and the need to adapt to new treatment protocols and procedures.   The lasting impact of the pandemic on healthcare systems and healthcare providers is even more concerning. For example, there may be a backlog of non-COVID-19 medical procedures and treatments that were postponed during the pandemic, which could put additional strain on healthcare providers as they work to catch up. There may also be long-term effects on the mental health and well-being of healthcare providers who have been working under such challenging conditions for an extended period.

However, it is important to note that healthcare providers have shown remarkable resilience and dedication throughout the pandemic. Many healthcare providers have gone above and beyond to care for their patients and support their colleagues during this difficult time. Additionally, healthcare systems have implemented new protocols and procedures to adapt to the pandemic, and many of these changes may have positive long-term effects on the delivery of healthcare.

As the pandemic continues to evolve, it will be important to continue to monitor the impact on healthcare providers and take steps to support their well-being and resilience. This could include providing mental health support and resources, investing in training and development programs, and addressing systemic issues within healthcare systems that contribute to stress and burnout. It can also involve addressing systemic issues within healthcare systems, such as understaffing and inadequate resources, contributing to burnout.

Some specific strategies that can help prevent or alleviate burnout in healthcare workers include:

1. Providing access to mental health support, including counseling and therapy services.

2. Encouraging and facilitating regular breaks and time off for healthcare workers.3. Implementing strategies to improve work-life balance, such as flexible scheduling and remote work options (Telehealth).

4. Offering training and support for healthcare workers to develop skills in stress management and resilience.
5. Addressing systemic issues within healthcare systems, such as understaffing and inadequate resources, that contribute to burnout.

It is essential that healthcare workers are supported in their work, especially after such a difficult and stressful time. By prioritizing the well-being of healthcare workers, we can help ensure that they are able to continue providing high-quality care to patients in the years to come.

Note: If you are a healthcare worker and are concerned about your mental health, go to to be screened and find resources and support. If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24-hour crisis center, or text MHA to 741741 to reach a trained Crisis Counselor 24/7.

Useful information for physician struggling with mental health:

About the author

Sadia Khalid, early-stage researcher (ESRs), medical writer and specialist at Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech), Estonia. She has been working on her PhD research project  “The role of Helicobacter pylori intestinal microbiota in the development of liver diseases. under supervision of Dr. Pirjo Spuul at Faculty of Science, Institute of Chemistry and Biotechnology.,TalTech. Her current research interests include Molecular Medicine, cell biology, infectious diseases, bacteriology, hepatology, and gastroenterology.

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