Dr. Vivek Murthy Urges Nation To Act Together To Address Physician Burnout

Physicians and other health professionals on the front lines of COVID-19 care have experienced so many unknowns during the pandemic. They’ve also put their own health and the well-being of their families on the line to provide care. Fortunately, though, the country is in a better position than it was a year ago. Despite the rise of the Delta variant and increases in cases and hospitalizations, the three available COVID-19 vaccines have helped save lives. But the fight isn’t over yet. Another battle remains: burnout within the exhausted physician workforce.

“It’s felt hopeful to me, especially in the early parts of the pandemic, to see many people in the public recognizing the role that clinicians were playing and the sacrifices they were making,” said U.S. Surgeon General Vice Adm. Vivek Murthy, MD, during a discussion with AMA CEO and Executive Vice President James L. Madara, MD, at the American Conference on Physician Health 2021.

But “I also worry about what’s happened to our clinicians. Yes, they have been absolute heroes, but that’s coming at a cost,” said Dr. Murthy. “The question that we have to ask ourselves as a country is: Are we willing to finally step up and do something?

“This is a time where we have an opportunity, but also an obligation, to address some of these deeper challenges of clinician well-being,” he added.

“We know that in order to address burnout, this isn’t about one organization or one sector—we all have to act together,” said Dr. Murthy. The “government has got to play an important role here. Health care systems have an important role to play.”

Also, “we know educational institutions, training institutions have an important role they can play,” he said, adding there’s even “an important role for policymakers and the public.”

How to promote physician well-being during a pandemic and beyond

The federal government has a unique opportunity and power “that is critical to highlight the issue for the general public and to lay out a national strategy around” physician burnout and well-being, said Dr. Murthy.

Don’t focus solely on the individual

“The bottom line with all of this, though, is … you can’t assume that solely focusing on equipping individual physicians with individual tools is going to be the solution to burnout,” said Dr. Murthy. “This is not just about enrolling physicians in a CME around self-care that they take for three days. … The problem is it is so much more systemic, and it’s deeper than that.”

Bringing “the right people together—the right sectors together—to commit to … both the systemic and process changes, but also the cultural changes that need to take place in an institution is going to be extraordinarily difficult,” he said.

Educate the public about burnout

“All of this cannot happen sustainably without us bringing the public in. And I don’t mean the broader health care professional,” Dr. Murthy said. “I mean the general public outside of health care because I don’t think that the general public fully appreciates how the problem of physician burnout is already impacting the care that you’re getting or not.

At pandemic peak, 1 in 3 resident doctors in NYC experienced burnout

“We know that when clinicians drop out of the workforce, it’s not just that there are fewer people that care for COVID patients at hospitals, but our ability to provide primary care, hospital-based care and other clinicians across the board also is compromised,” he said. “There’s so much more we need to do to help the public understand why clinician well-being is not just an issue for clinicians.

“It is a national priority, and it has to be treated with the urgency that it really deserves,” Dr. Murthy added.

The AMA offers resources to help physicians manage their own mental health and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic and provides practical strategies for health system leadership to consider in support of their physicians and care teams during COVID-19.

6 Things AboutCOVID-19 Vaccine Card

Social media has been flooded with images of people proudly displaying their COVID-19 vaccination cards—and the impetus for doing that is understandable. While that little white card has helped bring a sense of normalcy to people across the country, one question remains: What should your patients do with their COVID-19 vaccination cards? One physician explains what to tell patients to keep in mind after receiving their vaccine card.

Get the latest COVID-19 vaccine updates

Scientific integrity and transparency secures trust in COVID-19 vaccines. Stay informed on vaccine developments with the AMA. More than 140 million people have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Whether a person has received the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, everyone should receive a vaccination card. This card includes the data, location and which COVID-19 vaccine the person received. AMA member Purvi Parikh, MD, an allergist and immunologist as well as a vaccine researcher in New York City, shares what patients should know about their COVID-19 vaccination card.

Cover personal information

Many people have already shared photos with their COVID-19 vaccine card. But Dr. Parikh explained that it is important not to take a selfie with a vaccination card “because there’s actually been a lot of counterfeit cards being made.” Instead of taking a selfie with the vaccination card, Dr. Parikh recommends taking a photo while receiving the vaccine, which is what she did.

If a patient does want to take a selfie with their card, she recommends covering up personal information as well as the lot number and manufacturer because “someone could pretend to be you and copy the card—the same way someone can steal your identity for credit cards and other financial information.”

Have a backup copy

People who have received two doses of Pfizer or Moderna, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, should consider having a backup copy of their vaccination card, says the CDC. One way to keep a COVID-19 vaccination card safe is to “make a copy of it,” said Dr. Parikh, noting that this can be done by “taking a photo on your cellphone—that way you have it easily accessible.” Additionally, “make sure all the information on the card is correct and up to date,” she said. If it is not, inform the vaccine provider of the incorrect information.

Skip card lamination

“We recommend not laminating especially because we don’t know yet if booster shots are going to be needed,” said Dr. Parikh. “We also don’t know if additional shots and information will need to be added either.” Instead, “keep the card in a plastic covering like those plastic holders for IDs at conventions to keep it from getting ruined, because once you laminate it you can’t write anything on it again,” she said.

Replacement can be complicated

“You don’t want to lose your card, but if you do lose it—that’s why the photo is helpful,” said Dr. Parikh. But if a card is lost, “you could always request another one from where you received your vaccine, which can be complicated, especially if you did it in one of those pop-up vaccine sites. “But the best way to go forward is to get another card,” she added, noting that “if you’re in the system they can verify that you did receive a COVID-19 vaccine.”

There’s no easy access to the data

The vaccination card is a patient’s personal proof of immunization. Their information is also recorded in their state’s immunization registry. And while it may currently be difficult to access data on who is vaccinated and who is not, Dr. Parikh is “hoping that improves as we get more people vaccinated.” “Our primary goal is to get people vaccinated—period,” she said. “As more people get vaccinated against COVID-19, we’ll be able to organize the data better, the same way we do for flu shots and other vaccinations.”

“Once we get to a place where infection rates are low enough, where it’s not a public health threat, we may not need to do all of these things,” said Dr. Parikh. “But for the foreseeable future, we will have to be prepared to follow precautions and maintain records of our vaccine cards.”

Share vaccination status with doctor

It is also important for patients to share that they have received a COVID-19 vaccination with their doctor to “enter into the electronic medical record or paper chart in their office,” Dr. Parikh said. This is similar to what “we do with other vaccines, so it becomes part of your medical record as well.” Sharing that you have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and having it entered into the EHR also helps “in the event a card is lost, or documentation is needed,” she said.