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(The Dallas Examiner) – Anxiety, fatigue and post-traumatic stress disorder are some of the effects of coronavirus disease on the American health care system. The disease spawned into a pandemic, resulting in over 13 million deaths across the United States in the last three years.

With a decline in COVID-19 cases and better control of the pandemic, the U.S. ended the federal COVID-19 Public Health Emergency in May. But for some physicians, it is still a pertinent issue.

Dr. Gail Gazelle, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and a master certified coach for physicians and physician leaders, said the impact of the pandemic was unprecedented.

“Over the last three years, I have coached hundreds of physicians who are dealing with COVID in their practices. And I think it’s fair to say that it has challenged them immensely,” she said.

She alluded to the different challenges, especially at the beginning of the pandemic. 

“We had a fatal disease that had no cure. We had a shortage of medication. We had a shortage of ventilators. And for physicians who sign on to save lives and extend lives; It was immensely difficult to be that impotent in the early days of the pandemic,” Gazelle said. “I think it was really scary for physicians. Our job is to save lives and prolong lives and we had no tools to do that.”

Four months after the first COVID-19 case was officially confirmed in the U.S., more than 100,000 people were recorded dead. It was significantly higher than in any other country.

With an increasing number of cases, the American health care system wasn’t fully equipped to handle the rate of patients at the beginning and many physicians had to work overtime. A lot of them lived in hotels and apartments, isolated from the rest of their families.

“There was ongoing fatigue for physicians. They had colleagues who were sick, who were dying, who developed long COVID and couldn’t work. So, the physicians who remained had to do more. Had to see more patients [and] had to do more shifts.” Gazelle said.

Long COVID are signs, symptoms and conditions that continue or develop after the initial COVID infection, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Many physicians have had to go on disability because of what we call long COVID. These are physicians that develop respiratory compromise, cardiac issues, joint issues, chronic infectious issues,” Gazelle said. “Their lives have been irrevocably changed because of getting COVID and long COVID in particular. So, the ravages of long COVID are very real for a physician to be so debilitated by this illness that they can no longer be in the workforce because they get so short of breath that they can’t take care of patients.”

While long COVID can be malignant, some physicians regain strength and energy to work.

“I would say the advice is to take care of themselves. Long COVID is a dangerous beast and it’s easy to relax if you don’t take care of yourself. So, that’s probably advice for all physicians put on your oxygen mask first. Be sure to take care of yourself so that you can take care of others.”

With some of the stigma around mental health, some physicians are reluctant to seek the mental health care that they need, but Gazelle emphasized the importance of good health and work-life balance.

“You know, we physicians live in fear of being the target of a malpractice case, right? And so, if we seek help for depression or anxiety or, you know, excessive compulsive disorder, that goes in our record. That could be used against the physician if they’re ever the target of a malpractice case,” she said.

“This is why for me as a coach and not as a mental health clinician, it’s so important to help people seek health. You know, coaching doesn’t have the same type of stigma that going to a psychiatrist has. It’s not mental health treatment, it’s a whole different approach. It’s a well-being approach as opposed to a disease-oriented approach. It isn’t the same kind of stigma and that’s probably why more and more physicians are turning to coaching.”

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