Hundreds more physicians died than expected amid pandemic

Just as COVID-19 led to a much higher number of deaths for the public than what would have been anticipated without the virus, during the same time physicians in the workforce saw more than 600 excess deaths among their profession.

"Beyond the deaths directly attributable to the virus, we see the extended impact by quantifying the number of physicians deceased beyond what would have been expected under normal circumstances," Lindsey Carlasare, research and policy manager for the American Medical Association and one of the authors of the findings, said in a Feb. 7 press statement.

Data from the AMA was used by researchers from Stanford (Calif.) University School of Medicine, University of Southern California in Los Angeles and the AMA itself to calculate the number of excess physician deaths between March 2020 and December 2021, finding 622 more deaths than expected. 

"Among all active physicians, excess deaths peaked to over 70 in December 2020 and then had a rapid monotonic decrease in 2021," researchers wrote. "There was no statistically significant excess mortality after April 2021"

Despite the excess of deaths, researchers also found that "within all age groups, physicians had substantially lower excess mortality than the general population." 

What was found to help lower mortality rates included personal protective equipment use, vaccine requirements, infection prevention guidelines and sufficient staffing, according to the findings. Physician age was also a factor. 

The results are "not surprising," to some, including leaders like Connecticut state Sen. Jeff Gordon, MD, who also serves as the medical director of hematology-oncology at the University of Massachusetts Memorial Heath-Harrington and the council chair of the Connecticut State Medical Society.

As a physician who has practiced for nearly 30 years, Dr. Gordon told Becker's in a statement that physicians' wellness physically and mentally is vital to pay attention to because "existing detriments upon physician well-being became exacerbated" during the pandemic.

"As the COVID-19 crisis has become more manageable, hospitals should continue their efforts to promote physician well-being, not lessen them," he said. "It is a longitudinal effort. When the next health care crisis hits, these programs can then be ramped up to support physicians and others who work the front lines. If we do not support the well-being of physicians, then who will be there to take care of the patients in need of care?"


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