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Panic attacks, fatigue: Some doctors say they'll quit over COVID stress, study finds

Madeleine List, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

A quarter of doctors who participated in a February survey said they plan to leave their primary care jobs within the next three years because of stress over COVID-19, according to researchers.

The survey, conducted by The Larry A. Green Center, a Virgina-based medical research organization, showed that primary care physicians’ stress levels improved as vaccines became widely available in the U.S. last summer, but declined again to pre-vaccine levels when the delta variant of the coronavirus sparked waves of new outbreaks across the country.

As of February, only a fifth of the medical facilities where survey respondents worked were fully staffed and 44% had open clinician positions they could not fill, according to the survey.

Rebecca Etz, co-director of the Green Center, told the JAMA Network, an online medical journal, that some clinicians surveyed reported experiencing suicidal ideation, panic attacks in their sleep and the need to pull their cars over on the way home from work to vomit due to stress brought on by the pandemic.

“Our survey showed, going as far as 6 months into the pandemic, half the [clinicians] still didn’t have PPE,” Etz told JAMA Network. “People were wearing coffee filters and garbage bags to take care of their patients.”

As part of the survey, primary care doctors were asked about the state of their mental and physical health.


“I am emotionally traumatized and experiencing severe burnout,” one doctor said, according to JAMA.

“I cannot continue to work at this pace and retire at 65. I am 50. I am chronically exhausted. There is no relief in sight,” another clinician said.

According to survey results, 62% of 847 clinicians surveyed had personal knowledge of other primary care clinicians who retired early or quit during the coronavirus pandemic and 29% knew of practices that had closed.

Some doctors reported that their hospitals were severely understaffed as COVID-19 patients flooded through their doors, while others said they had too little work during the pandemic, according to JAMA. At the beginning of the pandemic and during subsequent COVID-19 surges, patients had to postpone or forgo regular medical appointments due to restrictions on in-person care, causing many clinics to suffer financially.


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