Yukon health-care workers faced high burnout during COVID-19: study

Yukon University has released research on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on frontline healthcare workers in the territory, per a July 20 release by the university.

The study found high burnout rates, a desire to be involved in future planning for pandemics or health emergencies and other key findings unique to the Yukon.

Liris Smith, research chair in health at the university, sampled 141 health-care workers — nurses and physicians — looking at personal, work-related and client-related burnout.

Smith and her team surveyed and interviewed nurses and physicians over the last year and found that while burnout rates were highest in the personal and work lives of research participants, patient-related burnout was low, the release noted.

For personal burnout, the study found out that over half of the respondents in this study reported feeling tired, worn out, physically and emotionally exhausted; while approximately two-thirds of respondents experienced work-related burnout of emotional exhaustion and feeling worn-out at the end of the workday.

However, when surveyed about client-related burnout, respondents were less likely to report being tired of working with clients or finding it hard or frustrating to work with clients.

“The highest rates of burnout were with women, and nurses reported higher rates of burnout than doctors. Results indicate that female health-care workers faced higher demands from their families during the pandemic, with pressures related to children and other relationships,” the statement read.

Smith said it was important to look at local contexts for health-care workers and what they are dealing with during the pandemic.

“COVID-19 shone a light on systemic issues in Yukon health care, like a lack of resources and support for frontline workers, creating a strong desire for health-care workers to be involved in future planning,” she said.

She added that understanding the impacts of the pandemic through research projects like this “can help partners look at creative solutions to the challenges that face the health-care system now, and in the future.”

The statement said Yukon health-care workers were able to replace group leisure activities with outside activities more easily than workers in other jurisdictions, which might explain why Yukon experienced less patient-related burnout.

“Moral distress and emotional burden were reported as a result of enforcing COVID-19 policies, and this compromised quality of care due to isolation and infection control measures,” the statement explained. “Communication and changing COVID-19 rules and measures affected all areas of work life and presented challenges related to timeliness, transparency and consistency.”

The research paper has been published in the peer-reviewed journal, Arctic Yearbook, and is now available to the public.

Smith and co-authors, Michelle Leach and Mark Christopher, are working with their partners on a second publication that will describe the personal experiences of nurses and physicians based on in-depth interviews over the past year.

Smith said they have conducted 38 in-depth interviews that provided a lot of information on the personal experiences of health-care workers and the kind of impact the pandemic had on them personally, in their workplaces and the people that they served.

“This research helps us understand some of the complex impacts of COVID-19 on health-care workers in our territory and will be useful in helping inform responses to other impactful events,” said Bronwyn Hancock, vice-provost, academic and research at the university.

The research was done through partnerships with the Yukon Medical Association, Yukon Registered Nurses Association, Yukon Licensed Practical Nurses Association, Two People With Lived Experience and the Yukon Strategy for Patient Oriented Research.

“In the North here, there certainly was a significant impact on nurses and physicians. And I think it’s really important we include nurses and physicians in future health emergencies because they have lots of ideas about ways to support the system,” Smith said.

Contact Patrick Egwu at [email protected]


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