Burnout Growing Among Health Care Workers as Pandemic Wears On

New California Health Care Foundation Survey

85% of providers say they plan to get the vaccine, but only 62% are confident in the ability of the health system in their area to administer it to the public, down from 75% in September

Providers report ongoing challenges with personal protective equipment (4 in 10 still don’t have enough N95 masks) and rising cases of burnout (68% feel emotionally drained at work)

83% say not enough is being done to address problems facing providers, while 91% agree with the statement “I feel frustrated by the public’s behaviors and attitudes related to COVID-19”

Health care providers in California are experiencing rising levels of weariness and frustration as the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, with an overwhelming majority getting a COVID-19 vaccine (85% of health workers have received or plan to get one), but doubts growing about the health system’s ability in their area to administer the vaccines to the general public, according to a new survey conducted by the California Health Care Foundation (CHCF) and Goodwin Simon Strategic Research. More than a year after the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in California, 91% of health providers agreed with the statement “I feel frustrated by the public’s behaviors and attitudes related to COVID-19.”

The CHCF survey, conducted among 1,202 health providers between January 4 and 14, 2021, is the second in a three-part series assessing COVID-19-related impacts on health care providers, including doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and behavioral health specialists. Results in the new survey are compared to the first wave conducted in September 2020.

In the new poll, 85% of providers say they have either received a vaccine or plan to do so, while only 2% say they do not intend to get vaccinated. Only 19% of providers, however, say they are “very” confident that the health care system in their area is prepared to publicly administer the COVID-19 vaccine, down from 33% of providers who said so in September.

Overall, 62% of providers express some level of confidence in widespread, public administration of the vaccine — down from 75% in September — while larger numbers are confident the health system can provide the vaccine to health care workers (89% are “very” or “somewhat” confident) and nursing home residents (71% are “very” or “somewhat” confident).

As the pandemic enters its second year, providers continue to report significant shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE), clinical staff, and other resources. Almost half (45%) of providers are reusing PPE — down only slightly from 50% in September. A total of 39% say they do not have enough medical-grade N95 masks to meet their needs. Approximately half of providers say their hospital or clinic does not have adequate beds (48%) or staff (44%) for current COVID-19 levels. Moreover, 6 in 10 agree that staffing shortages are hampering their ability to respond to the pandemic.

“California’s health care providers are under strain and fed up,” says Kristof Stremikis, director of Market Analysis and Insight at the California Health Care Foundation. “While their confidence in the new vaccines is high, they have become more worried about the public vaccination drive. Too many report that they still lack basic supplies, and we’re seeing rising levels of burnout and exhaustion. And providers are increasingly frustrated with the public for not doing their part to save lives.”

Added Stremikis, “When the people we all depend on to keep us safe and healthy show such serious warning signs, we need to take it very seriously.” Some of the other key findings in the survey:

  • Physical and emotional strain among providers is growing. Providers say they are emotionally drained at work. Half or more providers feel frustrated at their job (50%), overworked (57%), burned out (59%), or emotionally drained (68%). All these numbers are at the same levels or higher than they were in September.
  • Frustration with the public is high. A total of 91% of providers agree with the statement: “I am frustrated by the public’s behaviors and attitudes related to COVID-19.” When asked if they believe “the public is doing their part to stop the spread of COVID-19,” 86% said they disagree, with 60% “strongly” disagreeing.
  • Vast majority of providers think the pandemic will last at least six more months. Many providers expect the pandemic to last well past the spring and summer: Only 12% of providers believe the pandemic will come to an end within the next six months, while 43% believe it will be over in seven months to a year. More than one in three providers (35%) believe the end remains a year or two away, and 3% believe it will be three to five years.

The new CHCF poll included an open-ended question asking providers who feel burned out what is contributing most to them feeling this way. Some examples are provided below:

“I feel inefficient, overworked. I’m quite frustrated that the community will not take this pandemic seriously.” —NP/PA, Rural North, female

“I’m seeing three times as many patients with no time to chart or catch up. Little appreciation or contact from my bosses. I have never had an N95 [mask]. The emotional toll this pandemic is taking. Being sick myself and spreading it to my wife and young kids. Still not fully recovered but needing to be at work due to physician shortages. . . . The sadness of the COVID-related deaths and the stories that go along with the disease. That’s a lot of stuff to unpack.” —Doctor, Central Valley, male

“Emotional and physical exhaustion for third round of COVID-19 and 10 months of caring for COVID patients.” —Nurse, Central Coast, female

“Short staffed, so having to work more days. . . . The growing number of COVID patients is overwhelming. . . . ” —Nurse, LA County, female

The full report shows data broken down by provider type, by safety-net or non-safety-net providers, and by proportion of patients of color. All of the charts found in the report are also available for download.

Contact Information:
Lisa Aliferis
Senior Communications Officer

About the California Health Care Foundation

The California Health Care Foundation is dedicated to advancing meaningful, measurable improvements in the way the health care delivery system provides care to the people of California, particularly those with low incomes and those whose needs are not well served by the status quo. We work to ensure that people have access to the care they need, when they need it, at a price they can afford.