Public Health and Primary CareORIGINAL ARTICLE

Physician stress in the era of COVID-19 vaccine disparity: a multi-institutional survey

Sarah Zahl, PhD; Debasis Mondal, PhD; David Tolentino, DO; Jennifer A. Fischer, PhD; and Sherry Jimenez, EdD
Notes and Affiliations
Notes and Affiliations

Received: September 25, 2022

Accepted: March 16, 2023

Published: April 19, 2023

  • Sarah Zahl, PhD, 

    Clinical Affairs at Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine, Indianapolis, IN, USA

  • Debasis Mondal, PhD, 

    Department of Microbiology and Infectious Disease, Lincoln Memorial University, DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine, Knoxville, TN, USA

  • David Tolentino, DO, 

    Clinical Affairs at Campbell University School of Osteopathic Medicine, Buies Creek, NC, USA

  • Jennifer A. Fischer, PhD, 

    Department of Molecular Biology, Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, Stratford, NJ, USA

  • Sherry Jimenez, EdD, 

    Center for Interprofessional Education and Simulation, Lincoln Memorial University, DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine, Harrogate, TN, USA

J Osteopath Med; 123(7): 351-355

Context: Healthcare workers are at a high risk of infection during infectious disease outbreaks, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the availability of several vaccines against COVID-19, the absence of vaccination in patients and colleagues remains a continuous source of stress in healthcare workers. We conducted a survey of physician preceptors, both MDs and DOs, to explore the impact of differences in the patients’ and colleagues’ vaccination status on their well-being, stress, and burnout.

Objectives: The objective of this study is to determine whether exposure to unvaccinated patients and/or colleagues increases stress and burnout in physician preceptors by utilizing a self-reported survey.

Methods: This multi-institutional study was carried out in the United States in 2022. An online survey questionnaire was utilized to collect data from physicians working as preceptors for multiple academic institutions. The anonymous Qualtrics® survey utilized a modified version of the questionnaire from the expanded Physician Well-being Index (ePWBI) designed by MedEd Web Solutions (MEWS). Statistical analysis on both descriptive and qualitative data were performed. Utilizing a threshold of p≤0.05, data analysis revealed many statistically significant relationships between the variables.

Results: A total of 218 physician preceptors completed the survey. The survey results showed that physicians overwhelmingly (p < 0.001) felt that all patients (and healthcare workers) should be vaccinated. The results also indicated that physicians experienced more stress when working with unvaccinated patients (p<0.001), and these stressors were often associated with the physician’s gender and age. Furthermore, physicians stated that both their assessment and treatment plans were significantly different for vaccinated vs unvaccinated patients (p=0.039 and p=0.0167, respectively). Most importantly, stress levels (p<0.001) and burnout characteristics (p=0.024) were noted by physicians, both in themselves and in their colleagues.

Conclusions: Findings suggest that physician stress and burnout is a common theme due to the differences in vaccination status of patients admitted to COVID-19 clinics. Due to a more rapid progression of COVID-19 in unvaccinated patients, treatment plans for vaccinated vs unvaccinated patients were also considerably different.

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