UCSF study reports stress levels in emergency physicians during COVID-19 pandemic

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A new UCSF study reports moderate to severe stress levels in ER doctors during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I would say I'm pretty stressed," said San Francisco General Hospital ER doctor, Rob Rodriguez, who spoke to ABC7 Tuesday night, after landing in Brownsville, Texas.

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Dr. Rodriguez is from Brownsville and is there to volunteer at a hospital where they're experiencing a major surge.

"A good friend of mine is in the ICU at a local hospital."

Stress is something Rodriguez has become very familiar with. He's the lead author of the first known study on physician stress levels during the pandemic.

More than 400 emergency doctors were surveyed in California, Louisiana, and New Jersey, and Rodriguez said they all had something in common.

"We noticed a spike in overall anxiety levels."

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The study shows emotional exhaustion and burnout among doctors increased once the pandemic started, and that there are differences between how men and women have been affected. Female ER doctors reported slightly higher stress levels at work and at home.

"Women are more likely to have a care giving role, whether it's with their children or with a relative," said Maria Raven, the chief of emergency medicine at UCSF. "They're also more likely to provide more hours of care than their male counterparts. It's very, very stressful."

Dr. Raven took part in the study in March and April, when much less was known about transmission of the virus.

Most physicians surveyed reported changes in behavior towards family and friends, especially decreased affection.

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"There were a couple times when I had minor symptoms and was tested and was negative, but you have to be so much more mindful, especially as a physician, where you really could be bringing it home. You can't just thoughtlessly hug your kid the way you can normally," said Raven.

Both Rodriguez and Raven say increased PPE supplies have reduced physician stress levels. They also both say anxiety could be further mitigated, if rapid testing was more widely available and if everybody took mask wearing more seriously.

"We need everybody to take responsibility and wear masks," said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez says he will continue studying stress levels through the pandemic, to address different stressors that are occurring as different issues arise.

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