Psychologist supports medical professionals treating COVID-19 patients
Dr. Ravi Sabapathy, Clinical psychologist, AdventHealth
Q. What has been the impact of COVID-19 on medical professionals, and how has this time of pandemic been different for them compared to typical times?
A. COVID-19 has impacted medical professionals on many levels. Doctors, nurses and medical staff are resilient and strong, as well as gifted and courageous. COVID-19 changed the landscape and they had to adjust in ways they never have before to continue to provide the highest standard of medical care. They had to find a way to take care of their patients, go home and take care of their families, and find some time for self-care.
When the pandemic hit Johnson County on March 11, hospital emergency departments and ICUs were hit with patients first and had to make sure they had the proper equipment. Separate units had to be created for COVID-19 patents. Other people didn’t stop getting sick, but at the same time, we were seeing this acute, attacking virus. Now our health care system is seeing COVID-19 reach places such as urgent cares or primary care offices.
The burnout rate in our profession is 50-60% during typical times. Medical professionals experience emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and a feeling of lack of satisfaction. Medical care is complex enough without the addition of COVID-19.
Q. What resources have healthcare workers needed and how have you been able to support your colleagues’ well-being during this difficult time?
A. As a clinical psychologist, I care for patients who are in the hospital seeking treatment, but I also care for the doctors and nurses who treat those patients. Six years ago, I became the Director of AdventHealth’s Medical Staff Wellness program. A physician well-being committee includes hospital leadership at the highest levels. More physicians and staff have utilized this service that we luckily already had in place as other hospitals scrambled to get emotional and behavioral support for their medical providers.
When COVID-19 began here, I received 115-120 contacts over a three-day period.
I am there for doctors and nurses however they need me; coaching, consulting and counseling, which we refer to as the Three C’s. Support can happen in many ways. I talk to medical staff in person or virtually via Zoom. It’s important to be there with them in their environment, to help build trust. It can be a quick text or a phone call, or it can be a 50-minute psychotherapy session in my office. I’ve been known to send people food.
Before COVID-19, we were seeing or supporting one third of our medical staff. Those numbers have increased 10-15% since the pandemic.
Q. What are you anticipating as you look ahead?
A. It’s important to embrace the adversity, appreciate the present and not to focus on when this is all over. We have to appreciate the challenges and support one another. Medical professionals have fatigue, fear and frustration. We will need to check on them more for acute or post traumatic stress even after the pandemic is over. People have taken care of end-of-days patients that may not have had to do that before. We will need to watch our health care workers for residual impacts for the next few years.
Q. From the work you have done over the past few months, of what are you the proudest?
A. Some people have left the medical field due to COVID-19, even though it takes a long time to achieve these careers. I was working with someone who didn’t know if they could continue. I actively listened, and after a few visits, this person had a shifted perspective to overcoming adversity. We could have lost this physician from the medical practice. This person was rejuvenated and wanted to get back at it. This doctor is still practicing medicine today.