September 21, 2022

Assessing emotional exhaustion in HCWs before, during COVID-19

By: Judy Mathias

Editor's Note

This 3-year survey study led by researchers at Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, North Carolina, finds that emotional exhaustion trajectories varied by role but increased overall among most healthcare workers (HCWs) since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of 107, 122 HCWs surveyed, respondents reported increased emotional exhaustion in themselves and in their colleagues overall and for every role. From September 2019 to September 2021 through January 2022, emotional exhaustion increased from 31.8% to 40.4%.

Nurses reported increases in emotional exhaustion during the pandemic’s first year, from 40.6% in 2019 to 46.5% in 2020, and increasing again during the second year of the pandemic to 49.2%.

Physicians reported decreases in emotional exhaustion from 31.8% in 2019 to 28.3% in 2020, followed by a sharp increase in the second year of the pandemic to 37.8%.

All other roles showed similar patterns of emotional exhaustion as nurses but at lower levels.

Intraclass correlation coefficients showed clustering of exhaustion in work settings over the 3 years, suggesting a social contagion effect of exhaustion.

The findings indicate that emotional exhaustion among HCWs was problematic before the pandemic and has become worse, the researchers say. Increases in emotional exhaustion may jeopardize quality of care and necessitate additional support for the workforce.

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