Pandemic-Related Stress Rising Among ICU Clinicians

Richard Franki

May 08, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

Many ICUs are very busy dealing with the pandemic these days, and a recent survey shows that clinicians in the ICU are feeling the stress.

They are worried about getting infected, and they are even more worried about infecting family members, according to the Society for Critical Care Medicine, which surveyed members of four professional organizations — the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, American College of Chest Physicians, American Thoracic Society, and the SCCM — April 7-22, 2020.

Four items in the survey assessed respondents' level of stress or concern on a scale of 1-10:

  • Personal stress before the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Personal stress as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Concern about personally being exposed to COVID-19.

  • Concern about exposing family members to COVID-19.

  • Personal stress rose from a median of 3 before the pandemic to a current 8, a level that was equaled by personal concerns about being exposed and surpassed (10) by concerns about exposing family members, the SCCM reported in a blog post.

  • Most of the respondents "are taking special measures to limit the potential spread of the virus to their loved ones, including implementing a decontamination routine before interacting with families," the SCCM wrote.

  • The most common strategy, employed by 72% of ICU clinicians, is changing clothes before/after work. Showering before joining family was mentioned by 64% of providers, followed by limiting contact until decontamination (57%) and using hand sanitizer before entering home (51%), the SCCM said.

  • More extreme measures included self-isolating within their homes (16%) and staying in alternative housing away from their families (12%), the SCCM said, based on data for 9,120 clinicians in the United States.

  • Most of the respondents (88%) reported having cared for a patient with confirmed or presumed COVID-19. Nurses made up the majority (91%) of the sample, which also included nurse practitioners and physician assistants (4.5%) and physicians (2.9%), as well as smaller numbers of respiratory therapists, pharmacists, and emergency medicine flight personnel.

  • The results of the survey "underline the personal sacrifices of critical care clinicians during the COVID-19 response and suggest the need to help them proactively manage stress," the SCCM wrote.

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