By Monica Woodall, DO, FACOFP, FAAFP; chair, Health & Wellness Committee

As I stood in the parking lot, hovering over a syncopal patient in the Oklahoma heat, I had a flashback to a year ago when we were trying to find a way to safely see patients who were ill without contaminating the clinic. I stood many days in the hot parking lot—sweaty and tired and in full PPE.

I found out later that day the syncopal patient had COVID-19, and in my haste to get to him, I took my mask off that I was wearing in the clinic. I had to quarantine again, or rather, I felt obligated to do so—even though I am vaccinated. I cancelled dinner plans with my parents. I cancelled babysitting my two-month-old grandson. My husband and I skipped our weekly date night. I wore my mask in the clinic around staff diligently, even though we are all vaccinated and able to go without masks when patients are not in the clinic. I kept my exams with patients limited, in an effort to not expose them. I worried for 10 days. My family, clinic, patients and self were all put on hold. “Here we go again,” I thought to myself. “I don’t know if I can handle any more of this.”

I experienced burnout last year, but looking back, I think I managed as well as I could. This new era has its own burnout potentials that I am facing, and there hasn’t been much time to recover from the initial pandemic. Now, we face a “new normal” (although I don’t like that saying) and try to pick up our lives and move forward. Corporate wants us to ramp up patient visits and catch up on what had been put off, but because of the effects of the pandemic, my office staff is burnt out and some have subsequently quit. Unfortunately, the clinic is the busiest it’s been in a year.

Being short staffed but with full patient panel is hard on everyone in my clinic—and ultimately, the patients suffer. Patients have neglected themselves and fight their own battles as far as resuming to their “new normal.” Listening to patients over and over all day about the tragedies they have faced plays in my head after I leave work, but I try not to linger on those thoughts. And I still worry about my elderly parents and family—despite them being vaccinated.

Although we are in a new phase of this pandemic, burnout isn’t going away and will unfortunately remain in our lives. We must be vigilant in continuing to care for our patients, family and friends, and work family but, most importantly, ourselves. Finding new ways to combat burnout in these areas will help us stay healthy so that we can continue to care for others.

I hope you will join me and members of the ACOFP Health & Wellness Committee for a relaxed conversation on how we have managed and healed from burnout, as well as tips to take back to your home and practice, during the ACOFP Idea Exchange, Coping With COVID Burnout, on Saturday, August 21 at 2 pm CT.

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