The fight against Covid-19
and the burnout battle

di Priscilla Pajdo del February 12, 2021

TORONTO - For most people, Covid-fatigue is real. Following months of pandemic precautions including staying home and distancing oneself from essential supportive networks, there is an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion and eagerness to return to normalcy. However, chronic fatigue is the new reality for numerous healthcare professionals on the frontlines.

Prior to the pandemic, symptoms associated with burnout, such as, anxiety and depression were common among healthcare workers, specifically those on the frontlines. Various studies suggest the added stress of daily “exposure risk” to Covid-19 pose a greater burden on their physical and mental health.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It is often characterized by feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy. Individuals who experience burnout, often express emotional, physical and mental exhaustion. Healthcare workers continue to play a pivotal role in Canada’s response to Covid-19. Females make up an average of 80% of Canada’s healthcare workforce. Typically, women are more often in primary family caregiving roles. The pandemic has only exacerbated the pressures they face in the role they assume.

Researchers at the University of Toronto’s Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, conducted a rapid scoping review study to better understand stress, burnout and depression in women in healthcare. Although, there is limited amount of evidence on effective interventions that prevent stress, depression and burnout during a pandemic, preliminary findings suggest female healthcare workers are more at risk for these negative effects.

Vanessa, a registered nurse (who prefers not to use her last name), who worked directly with Covid-19 patients during the first wave, told the Corriere Canadese, “the constant fear and stress is hard to escape”. Even following all the necessary protocols and wearing the appropriate PPE did not ease her concerns. “I would worry every day about the virus spreading among the patients I cared for, my colleagues and possibly bringing the virus home to my family”, she adds, “it took a toll on me, physically and mentally.”

After taking time to address her own health and recover from burnout, Vanessa, now working in a public health role, continues to apply her experience and expertise in the battle against Covid-19.

Despite the added stress and pressure all healthcare workers face, it has not dissuaded a new generation of people stepping up in this unprecedented time.

For instance, the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre reports that in January, over 22,500 nursing applications were submitted. That represents a 17.5% increase from just one year ago. In Canada, the registered nursing degree program takes four years to complete.

As the pandemic continues into it’s second year, Canada’s healthcare sector still faces a high number of job vacancies, including personal support workers and nurses. The number of students interested in pursuing a career in nursing seems hopeful. However, it will take years for the fatigued healthcare system and medical personnel to see this relief.

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