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Burn Notice

December 1, 2021

The Merriam-Webster dictionary’s definition of burnout is “the cessation of operation usually of a jet or rocket engine,” or more relatable to those of us in the health care field, “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration".1 The obvious stressor in the last 2 years, has been the slow burning COVID-19 pandemic, the effects of which, on patients and clinicians, continue to evolve and declare themselves in a variety of ways.

In the Spring of 2020, I recall driving into the hospital on eerily quiet highways with a flutter of anxiety and exhilaration at what the day may bring taking care of adult patients with COVID-19. A large sign waved supportively at the brave souls entering the largely empty parking garage, “We love our healthcare heroes.” Over a year later, what do we know about what pediatric faculty were experiencing in those days?

In this month’s Hospital Pediatrics, Uong et al share their findings from cross sectional surveys of pediatric faculty at a tertiary care children’s hospital prior to, during, and soon after the first surge (a 7-month period) in 2020 (10.1542/hpeds.2021-006045). Outcomes studied included frequency of burnout and emotional exhaustion measured using validated surveys on burnout. Interestingly, the investigators found no changes in faculty burnout following the first surge and improvement in emotional exhaustion which may, in part, be explained by “heroic” and “honeymoon/community cohesion” phases post-disaster. In an accompanying commentary, Mahan provides valuable perspective to the study findings including the multifaceted etiology of burnout and the strong influence of the meaning of work especially in the early stages of the pandemic (10.1542/hpeds.2021-006349). Mahan also highlights the contribution of workload to burnout and the relevance of “good workload.”

We are undoubtedly experiencing a disaster and prolonged fallout. I highly recommend reading both articles for the historical evidence of pediatricians’ experience in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and perspective into burnout. The sign above our hospital parking garage is now long gone and looking around, it feels like many colleagues may be in the “disillusionment” phase of this disaster, underscoring the importance of paying attention to burnout and implementing strategies to prioritize the wellbeing of a critical workforce.


  1. Merriam-Webster dictionary. Available at Accessed November 21, 2021.
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