How the Pandemic Has Affected Doctors, Nurses Globally: Poll

Marcia Frellick

June 11, 2020

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

A Medscape poll yields more evidence that COVID-19 has changed practice significantly for most physicians and nurses around the globe.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of nurses/advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) and 77% of physician respondents said their work had changed significantly or very significantly due to the pandemic. Only 9% of nurses/APRNs and doctors (8%) said their work had not changed at all or had changed only slightly.

The poll, first posted on May 7, reflects responses from 413 physicians (245 outside the United States) and 547 nurses/APRNs.

US PCPs Report the Most Change

US primary care providers were the group most likely to report big changes: 85% said their work had changed significantly. Next were US specialists (77%); European physicians (71%); and Southeast Asian physicians (67%).

US PCPs also had the highest percentage of respondents indicating they were currently treating COVID-19 patients either in person or via telehealth. More than half (56%) were currently treating COVID-19 patients compared with 35% of nurses/APRNs; 34% of European physicians; 31% of US specialists; and 14% of Southeast Asian physicians.

Still, more than half of all providers in the poll have never treated a patient with COVID-19.

Table. Are You Currently Treating COVID-19 Patients (Either in Person or via Telemedicine?)

  % Nurse/APRN % US PCPs % US Specialists % European Physicians % SE Asian Physicians
Yes 35 56 31 34   14
No, but I have in the past 10 11 10 14  12
No, I have never treated COVID-19 patients 55 33 59 52  75


When asked how work has changed, US physicians and nurses/APRNs across the board answered that offering telemedicine was at the top of the list. However, in Europe, the biggest change among respondents was listed as limiting patients to acute visits; for Southeast Asian physicians, the biggest change was working fewer hours.

Only 29% of European physicians and 17% of Southeast Asian physicians listed telemedicine as a way their work had changed.  

A pediatric complex care nurse working with fragile children in their homes who responded to the poll explained the many ways her work had changed.

She now stays in the child's room with a mask for the whole 10-hour shift and washes her hands vigorously before returning home to her immunodeficient spouse.

"Work clothes and home clothes are exchanged and bagged for washing in the vestibule," she writes. "I carry a container of antiseptic wipes in my car and wipe down the steering wheel, shifter, knobs, door, & seat belt, etc as I am getting out.

"I also pray every night for all of us," she said.

A provider in dentistry said, "We in dentistry were told to stand down from scheduled treatment procedures in mid-March, from both our professional associations and state (departments of health). We were told to surrender any (personal protective equipment) to local hospitals. Emergency care had to be relegated to hospital ERs due to the need for negative pressure ventilation rooms."

The writer noted the change may be long lasting, adding, "Some offices will not reopen at all."

COVID-19 Has Called for Cross-Training

The pandemic has caused many providers to switch roles. One poll question asked those who found themselves working in a different clinical environment what type of training was involved. Across all categories of providers in this survey, the top two answers (excluding those who answered "other") were general care in intensive care units and general care in a noncritical ward.

The outlook for returning to a regular work routine, even if that meant making adjustments for COVID-19, was fairly consistent for nurses/APRNs and all the physicians. The most common answer was "another few months." Between 24% and 40% answered that way. Between 10% and 15% were more skeptical and said they expected that time to come "beyond the end of the year."

Medscape has recounted many stories of medical providers changing roles, including one about a neurology resident who left her rotation at Mt. Sinai in the Manhattan borough of New York City to join the COVID-19 team at an emergency department in neighboring Queens.

She announced on social media, "Today I left my neurology rotation to join an amazing team in the Elmhurst ED. It's an unfamiliar place in a different specialty, but the team has been nothing but welcoming and I look forward to the next few weeks. Happy to do my tiny bit during this heath crisis. Let's do this."

Marcia Frellick is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. She has previously written for the Chicago Tribune and and was an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times. Follow her on Twitter at @mfrellick.

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