By Tim Cook

Nearly two years after states of emergency were declared in the United States due to the COVID-19 pandemic, health care workers on the front lines in the fight against the disease have reported feeling exhaustion and strain on a massive scale. A USA Today/Ipsos poll conducted between Feb. 9 and Feb. 16, 2022, found 43% of 1,170 health care workers surveyed felt “burned out” and “anxious” regarding their professions and specific duties. Most notably, 23% of those surveyed said they are likely to leave the health care industry soon.

Political rancor and abusive behavior from patients and their families was also a major issue, with 21% reporting that they were “angry” because of conflict with patients. 

Though 59% identified themselves as “hopeful” and “motivated,” these numbers are down from 76% in a similar survey in 2021.

Frustration among workers is rampant in part due to the great number of patients and other individuals who are resistant to measures designed to slow or stop the virus’ spread.  

It was found that 66% of all health care workers surveyed have treated a patient with COVID-19, including 86% of those working in hospitals. Of those who treated COVID-19 patients, or just over 53% of polled workers in total, 81% have treated unvaccinated patients. Of those who treated COVID-19 patients, 67% reported that even while fighting the viral infection, patients expressed skepticism to vaccines for COVID-19. Meanwhile, 38% reported that some patients expressed regret for not taking the vaccine.

In addition, 30% of those surveyed in the Ipsos poll said that patients and/or their families had criticized them and the care they provided. That constitutes nearly a third of health care workers in the country, based on the poll’s sample.

Abuse toward these individuals has grown to be such an issue that action is being taken to prevent it at the institutional level. On Feb. 22, the Wisconsin Assembly passed a bill making it a felony for patients and their families to threaten a health care worker in their capacity as a health care worker or in response to the care they provide. In the future, this measure may prove popular in other states, where polling data shows such abuse is likely to occur at similar rates.

As the nation waits to see if healthcare workers leave the industry en masse or stay on, reports of heavy backlogs in the licensing process for nurses and other health professionals in multiple states add fears of a severe staffing shortage for hospitals and urgent care centers.