FAU researchers explore the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on resident physicians

The COVID-19 pandemic has had many severe consequences for health care workers, including the challenges of caring for critically ill patients. Resident physicians, in particular, may have been affected by the physical and psychological consequences of the epidemic. At the moment, data about perceptions, coping strategies and the mental health of residents during COVID-19 is scattered.

The survey included FAU residents in four specialties: internal medicine, surgery, emergency medicine, and Psychiatry. Image Credit: Florida Atlantic University

Researchers from Florida Atlantic University School of Medicine explored these issues with data from community-based academic residency programs in the southeastern United States. They administered anonymous online multiple-choice surveys to assess residents’ perceptions, coping strategies, and self-reported levels of depression, anxiety, and stress that occurred during the early phase of the epidemic.

Original search results published in Southern Medical Journal, that 88.1 percent of the population felt they were likely or very likely to get COVID-19. If infected, 28.8 percent felt their illness would be serious or very serious. Regarding depression, anxiety, and stress, all mean scores were in the normal range. For depression, emergency medicine and surgery residents reported higher levels. The trainees’ top three strategies for dealing with COVID-19 included acceptance, self-distraction, and the use of emotional support. The three least used strategies included behavioral disengagement, drug use, and denial.

Residents surveyed in our programs reported effective coping strategies during the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. It seems important and timely to continue to explore the perceptions, coping strategies and mental health of residents as they play essential roles in the service of our patients and our communities. This information may be useful to future residents and managers of residency programs because our interns are a pipeline to future clinicians and will inevitably encounter many challenging circumstances while serving on the front lines of healthcare.”

Alison H. Ferris, MD, director of the internal medicine residency program, and chief of medicine, FAU Schmidt College of Medicine

The survey included FAU residents in four specialties: internal medicine, surgery, emergency medicine, and psychiatry. The researchers used the COPE Brief Questionnaire, which included 28 items to assess coping strategies. They also measured dimensions of depression, anxiety, and stress using the 21-item Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scale (officially recognized as the DASS-21).

More research is needed to better understand the challenges residents face and the resources they need as new frontline members of the healthcare workforce, so that program leaders can proactively support them in an evidence-based and considered manner. “

Sarah K. Wood, MD, senior author, professor of pediatrics, vice dean for medical education, chair of women’s and child health, FAU Schmidt College of Medicine.

The authors note that this survey was conducted in May 2020 at a time when US deaths from COVID-19 exceeded 100,000. However, in Florida, the first peak was in July 2020, the second peak was in January 2021, and the third and highest peak was in August 2021 The authors suggest that it is plausible that the responses would have been different had the population been surveyed at a later time when cases and deaths peaked in Florida.

We believe the most plausible explanation for the data is that during the United States’ COVID-19 pandemic, these populations reported effective coping strategies, namely acceptance, self-distraction, and the use of emotional support.”

Michael Didono, PhD, first author, researcher in psychology and associate professor in the FAU School of Education, Schmidt School of Medicine.

The study’s co-authors are Andreea Molnar, MD, a first-year FAU resident in internal medicine. Henry M. Haier, MD, associate professor in the department of medicine; Sachin S. Sule, MD, associate professor in the Department of Medicine; and Charles H. Hennekens, MD, Dr.PH, First Sir Richard Dole Professor of Medicine and Senior Academic Adviser, all at FAU Schmidt College of Medicine.


Journal reference:

DeDonno, Massachusetts, and others. (2022) Perceptions, coping strategies, and mental health of residents during COVID-19. Southern Medical Journal. doi.org/10.14423/SMJ.0000000000001439.

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