ICU doctor seeing health-care colleagues burning out as 4th wave hits Sask.

·4 min read
Dr. Susan Shaw says health-care workers are exhausted, mostly because of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients.   (Shutterstock / Chaikom - image credit)
Dr. Susan Shaw says health-care workers are exhausted, mostly because of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients. (Shutterstock / Chaikom - image credit)

A Saskatoon intensive care doctor says she is seeing more and more of her colleagues beginning to burn out as they deal with the fourth wave of the pandemic.

Dr. Susan Shaw, an ICU doctor and a chief medical officer with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA), said what's particularly frustrating is that almost all of the COVID-19 patients they are seeing are unvaccinated.

"We continue to see patients that have a preventable illness," Shaw said on CBC's Saskatoon Morning.

"That is adding, I think, not just to the workload — the physical workload, the number of patients we look after — but it's adding to the mental and emotional workload for all of us."


Shaw said burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion.

"It's really classically seen as compassion fatigue. And I wouldn't want to be looked after by somebody who has compassion fatigue, who didn't have that ability to care and to feel and to empathize."

Burnout is causing health-care workers to scale back their hours or leave the profession entirely, she said.

"Maybe people are choosing to retire a little earlier or they've extended their period of time and they've delayed their retirement to be part of the pandemic. And it's just become too much for them."

LISTEN | Dr. Susan Shaw spoke with Leisha Grebinski on Saskatoon Morning

'It feels like this is never going to end': doctor

Dr. Kevin Wasko, physician executive for integrated rural health with the SHA, said it's to a point where health-care workers are exhausted.

"For some, it feels like this is never going to end. And then you start to lose hope. And when you lose hope, you stop wanting to do the work that you know, the job that you took on to really help people," Wasko said on CBC Saskatchewan's The Morning Edition.

There are shortages of health-care workers in the cities and small towns, Wasko said.

"We are just holding on to try to keep the doors open in some places right now, let alone if we were to surge with the next wave," Wasko said. "It's a bit of a case of a bunch of sitting ducks, if our vaccination rate is the worst in the country, and it is."

Saskatchewan Medical Association
Saskatchewan Medical Association

The test positivity rate is also the highest in the country. That means the province is bound to see a surge unless immunization rates ramp up, he said. There's been a false sense of comfort that the health system can handle the surge like in the past, he said.

"This surge will look different. It will mean that people won't get the care that they need. And that doesn't just mean they won't get that COVID care they need. But when we aren't able to provide for people's care needs, that means people with heart attacks, people in car accidents," Wasko said.

"It will mean an unnecessary loss of life for people in the province."

LISTEN | Dr. Kevin Wasko spoke with Stefani Langenegger on The Morning Edition

The unvaccinated

Shaw said some people who are hesitant to get the vaccine have good questions, like how are vaccines developed and how do do we ensure the safety of vaccines.

"I can assure you that all of the safety steps have been in place," she said, adding these are the most tested vaccines that's ever been developed when you look at the trials that have been done.

"We now have months of data of millions of people all around the world with all of the vaccines having been approved for use by Health Canada. And we know that for the vast majority of people, it's minimal side effects and it's highly effective at reducing your chance of illness and death."

Shaw knows some people will never be convinced.

"Some people just do not believe that COVID exists. And if it doesn't exist, why would you accept a vaccine?"

She said the SHA is working at reaching those people who are having trouble getting access to the vaccine or have answers to their questions.

"I know we will get through this," Shaw said. "But it's what do we look like on the other side as a health-care system and as a society?"

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