Academic Emergency Medicine Physicians' Anxiety Levels, Stressors, and Potential Stress Mitigation Measures During the Acceleration Phase of the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Academic Emergency Medicine


Objective: The objective was to assess anxiety and burnout levels, home life changes, and measures to relieve stress of U.S. academic emergency medicine (EM) physicians during the COVID-19 pandemic acceleration phase. Methods: We sent a cross-sectional e-mail survey to all EM physicians at seven academic emergency departments. The survey incorporated items from validated stress scales and assessed perceptions and key elements in the following domains: numbers of suspected COVID-19 patients, availability of diagnostic testing, levels of home and workplace anxiety, severity of work burnout, identification of stressors, changes in home behaviors, and measures to decrease provider anxiety. Results: A total of 426 (56.7%) EM physicians responded. On a scale of 1 to 7 (1 = not at all, 4 = somewhat, and 7 = extremely), the median (interquartile range) reported effect of the pandemic on both work and home stress levels was 5 (4–6). Reported levels of emotional exhaustion/burnout increased from a prepandemic median (IQR) of 3 (2–4) to since the pandemic started a median of 4 (3–6), with a difference in medians of 1.8 (95% confidence interval = 1.7 to 1.9). Most physicians (90.8%) reported changing their behavior toward family and friends, especially by decreasing signs of affection (76.8%). The most commonly cited measures cited to alleviate stress/anxiety were increasing personal protective equipment (PPE) availability, offering rapid COVID-19 testing at physician discretion, providing clearer communication about COVID-19 protocol changes, and assuring that physicians can take leave for care of family and self. Conclusions: During the acceleration phase, the COVID-19 pandemic has induced substantial workplace and home anxiety in academic EM physicians, and their exposure during work has had a major impact on their home lives. Measures cited to decrease stress include enhanced availability of PPE, rapid turnaround testing at provider discretion, and clear communication about COVID-19 protocol changes.

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