Commentary: Finding ways to help our health care heroes

Growing up, I always enjoyed watching superheroes like Superman defeat the bad guys. Lex Luthor’s evil plan would be foiled once again, and the world would be saved. However, in the real world, superheroes don’t always wear capes when they save lives. Doctors are our superheroes, and we must protect them as they protect us. It is a shame that so many physicians experience burnout and that the situation has only worsened over the pandemic.

The Journal of American Radiology indicates that past epidemics increased the risk of a worsened mental health status for physicians, which could lead to burnout. According to a 2020 article in Plos One by T. Kannampallil, physician burnout was at an all-time low at from 33.7% pre-pandemic to 46.3% during the pandemic. That means almost half of the physicians were and may still be burnt out. Also, it is disappointing to see that the 33.7% is “an all-time low” during the pre-pandemic, as that is already a large percentage of physicians who experience burnout.

Burnout is not only terrible for physicians, but for their patients as well. A 2021 article by Janis D. Carrau in the medical journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery reports that physician burnout also has considerable implications in health care delivery. “As burnout progresses, work performance is affected to the detriment of patient care, leading to decreased quality of care, patient satisfaction, and productivity and increased medical errors and physician turnover,” the article notes.

Now that physician burnout is at its highest, we must find solutions to help our doctors. Luckily, there are many solutions that will decrease burnout rates. They can be categorized into two levels: individual and organizational. Dr. Christina Maslach of the University of California Berkley Psychology Department outlines the primary themes found in burnout such as workload, control, reward, community, fairness and values.

According to Carrau’s 2021 article, changes in the “individual level (include), stress management, self-care, and gratitude interventions,” while changes in the “organizational level (include), shortened shifts and policies regarding scheduling requests, cross coverage, vacation, sick leave, maternity and paternity leave.”

To implement solutions based on the individual level, we could help our physicians by encouraging conversations about mental health in everyday life. By de-stigmatizing mental health, other people (including physicians) will feel safer and ask for help. Sometimes just by being open, sympathetic and aware of the impacts of mental health, you could create a comforting and accepting environment.

Next time that there is a long wait in the hospital, we could try to be patient in understanding the workload and stress of physicians and providers. Many physicians are under the impression that they should not rest too often or take vacations because it is their duty to help their patients. To address this, we as a society should also try to destigmatize this notion by normalizing that taking breaks is OK. For example, we could have more doctors vacationing in travel advertisements. Or, if you are in the medical field, talking about going on vacation to coworkers would help with the destigmatization. Lastly, simply showing gratitude and saying “thank you” to your doctor could go a long way.

To implement solutions based on the organizational level, we could directly advocate for improvements in hospital policies to manage physicians’ workload and stress. For example, we could join a movement, aid in protests, and/or spread the word for a policy change through social media. The goal is to gain traction and attention to pressure policy makers, politicians or hospital administrators to make the changes embedded within the law. These policy changes should be nationwide. For more information on how to push for improvement in hospital policies, visit The Joint Commission or Physicians Foundation.

Please help our heroes.

— By Sarah Thai

Edmonds resident Sarah Thai is a second-year student at the University Washington. She wrote this paper as part of a project for her public health class.



  1. Try out patient COVID-19 treatment. The heroes tell people to just sit at home and wait it out, then patients present to the hospital without having done any out patient treatment, therapudic or prophylactic. Instead of hiring more heros and scaling ICU beds, the heros instead reduced their ranks and beds and are now burnt out due to being short staffed and underequipped. There were twice as many ICU beds in the 70’s.

  2. The best thing we can do to help our healthcare heroes is to stay well and stay out of the hospital. Leave those beds to people who really need them. Get vaccinated and then get boosted~ reduce your odds of getting COVID, and if you get it anyway, you’re more likely to stay out of the hospital.

    We’re long past the stage of hoping for “natural antibodies” or other anti-vax hocus-pocus. Even Donald Trump is now advocating for the vaccines! Also wear a face mask in indoor public places. Again, it reduces your odds of infection.

    This may sound tiresome, but I know some folks out there still don’t get it.

    1. Very good Roger Pence. That is so right on true! Great way to reach a varied audience. IF Donald Trump is advocating for it then I think his supporters would want to believe and respect his suggestions. I think he would want them to also. I think he would like to get this all cleaned up before election talk really starts and it won’t be long. If his supporters want him running for office they should make him look good now. One way to do this is to get this pandemic controlled and guessing by August it will be more just like common flu.
      This I hope you will post… Deb.

  3. These past two years I have seen on television possibly thousands of scenes of doctors and nurses attending Covid-19 patients in hospitals. Obviously they do more than “….tell people to just sit at home and wait it out.” In terms of “therapudic and prophylactic”, we had President Trump lead the way with bleach, and others suggesting animal dewormers. Meanwhile, the heroes referenced in the article by Sarah Thai have urged vaccines, masks, testing and social distancing.
    How do doctors reduce their ranks and beds, as Matt accuses? I am not sure this is possible. They can quit or retire. Sure. Journalists report that this is happening more often than usual. Okay. The article here mentions burnout. But how do they reduce beds?
    I challenge Matt to prove that there “….were twice as many ICU beds in the 70”s.” Even if this is true, it would not be the fault of “our heroes”. Rather it would be a reflection of our health care system’s desire to be as efficient as possible with our health care dollars. Unused hospital beds are considered to be a waste of money by hospital administrators, not by doctors.
    From my own experience I believe that we were short in the number of doctors and nurses before Covid-19 came on the scene. I say this because I had difficulty finding a primary care physician willing to take on new patients. Then when I needed care by a specialist, I had to wait months to get an sppointment. I find it difficult to blame doctors for the lack of doctors.

    1. Prior to my wife passing away earlier this year she utilized many different specialists. I handled getting the appointments for her and they were always attainable in a reasonable amount of time. I also use 4 or 5 different specialists and have no trouble getting to see them in a timely manner. Is it possible that your insurance coverage is not the most desirable?

  4. The only emergency approved treatments are still Remdesivir (a drug which has never been full approved for anything) and monoclonal antibodies, which the federal government is withholding from states they don’t like (Florida, Texas). Healthcare providers have had their hands tied. Many have had their medical licenses threatened. Some of the medical heroes who were exposed and have immunity (yes, there are far too many studies worldwide to deny the efficacy) were subsequently fired. I don’t recall another point in history when this many medical professionals formed groups to oppose our own government and were subsequently removed from the medical community by the government and media. The inventor of RNA technology has been reduced to podcasts. Quoting “unapproved” statistics can get you removed from the digital planet. Meanwhile, India and many other countries have turned to early prophylactic treatment with drugs you can’t name, for fear of censorship and ignorant name-calling. They have slightly more than 50% of total US deaths, with about 1,000,000,000 more people. Our Covid death rate per million people is the highest in the world. It’s time to face American arrogance and the damage being done by those who censor, suppress data and have no results to support their ever-shifting mandates. There is a $2 million debate challenge out there for any of our “experts” to publicly defend their positions. There should be a public push to make this happen. We’re becoming a ridiculous, large scale version of a cruise ship, where vaccination has not prevented infection and may not prevent another complete shutdown.

  5. Thsnks, Ron. As you suggest, some of my wait time to see a specialist was due to the need to get approval from my health care provider. However, most of it was due to the full calendars of the specialists. Then after the initial appointments, I learned not to leave the office until I had the next appointment set. Since then I have had more success seeing them on a timely basis. I am pleased to know that you have been able to see your specialists without delays.
    Glen, as usual you make statements that are simply false at best. For example and contrary to what you say, I have a friend who is a resident of Texas and whose doctors successfully treated his Covid-19 with monoclonal antibodies. At worst you undermine our tradition of free speech and a free press by encouraging distrust in public institutions snd officials trying to protect us. But then you are free to spread falsehoods. It is your right. I will continue to listen to my health care experts at the local, state and federal levels. This is my right.

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