Background The medical profession, with its remarkable physical and emotional demands, predisposes physicians to compassion fatigue (CF) and burnout (BO). Though these conditions have been studied individually, little attention has been paid to how pediatric emergency physicians experience these conditions in the context of an Asian emergency setting especially during a global pandemic.
Objectives In our study, we aim to understand the experiences of individual physicians and describe the potential triggers or protective factors of CS, BO and compassion satisfaction (CS) amongst physicians in an Asian pediatric emergency department during a pandemic.
Methods A qualitative, individual interview methodology was employed. From March to April 2020, we enrolled 20 physicians involved in frontline care during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic in the pediatric emergency department to participate. Semi-structured interviews were conducted, audiotaped and transcribed in verbatim, with identifiers removed. Themes were identified and data analysed using qualitative data analysis and iterative data analysis.
Results We recruited 20 physicians. Three themes emerged from data analysis. Firstly, we showed how workplace conditions are protective, including work morale, leadership and management and social support received. Secondly, workload affected participants emotionally and in terms of its heavier quantity and longer hours. Finally, intrinsic factors that were protective in developing CF or BO include having professional autonomy, experience, work-life balance and having emotional resilience to develop self-care. Cultural influences affect emotional regulation and can lead to negative coping with negative peer pressure. In general, participants quantified their levels of satisfaction at work as average to above-average. However, they highlighted experiencing greater stress during COVID-19 with the underlying fear of contagion and infection.
Conclusions Being a pediatric emergency physician puts one at greater risk of experiencing CF and BO because of work and non-work stressors especially during a global pandemic, influenced by sociocultural factors. A positive and supportive work environment should be created while providing culturally-adapted strategies to improve individual physician resilience to maintain their well-being
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