Vaccines may be on the way, but many on the front lines are burned out. Has the government done enough to help alleviate their stress?

 
Sheetal Khedkar Rao, an internist in suburban Chicago, decided last year she could not continue practicing medicine. “After a while, the emotional burden and moral injury become too much to bear.”Credit...Sebastian Hidalgo for The New York Times

Dr. Sheetal Khedkar Rao, 42, an internist in suburban Chicago, can’t pinpoint the exact moment when she decided to hang up her stethoscope for the last time. There were the chaos and confusion of the spring, when a nationwide shortage of N95 masks forced her to examine patients with a surgical mask, the fears she might take the coronavirus home to her family and the exasperating public disregard for mask-wearing and social distancing that was amplified by the White House.

Among the final blows, though, were a 30 percent pay cut to compensate for a drop in patients seeking primary care, and the realization that she needed to spend more time at home after her children, 10 and 11, switched to remote learning.

“Everyone says doctors are heroes and they put us on a pedestal, but we also have kids and aging parents to worry about,” said Dr. Rao, who left her practice in October. “After awhile, the emotional burden and moral injury become too much to bear.”

Doctors, paramedics and nurses’ aides have been hailed as America’s frontline Covid warriors, but gone are the days when people applauded workers outside hospitals and on city streets.

Now, a year into the pandemic, with emergency rooms packed again, vaccines in short supply and more contagious variants of the virus threatening to unleash a fresh wave of infections, the nation’s medical workers are feeling burned out and unappreciated.    CONTINUE READING