Wellness and Coping of Physicians Who Worked in ICUs During the Pandemic: A Multicenter Cross-Sectional North American Survey

Crit Care Med. 2022 Dec 1;50(12):1689-1700. doi: 10.1097/CCM.0000000000005674. Epub 2022 Oct 27.


Objectives: Few surveys have focused on physician moral distress, burnout, and professional fulfilment. We assessed physician wellness and coping during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Design: Cross-sectional survey using four validated instruments.

Setting: Sixty-two sites in Canada and the United States.

Subjects: Attending physicians (adult, pediatric; intensivist, nonintensivist) who worked in North American ICUs.

Intervention: None.

Measurements and main results: We analysed 431 questionnaires (43.3% response rate) from 25 states and eight provinces. Respondents were predominantly male (229 [55.6%]) and in practice for 11.8 ± 9.8 years. Compared with prepandemic, respondents reported significant intrapandemic increases in days worked/mo, ICU bed occupancy, and self-reported moral distress (240 [56.9%]) and burnout (259 [63.8%]). Of the 10 top-ranked items that incited moral distress, most pertained to regulatory/organizational ( n = 6) or local/institutional ( n = 2) issues or both ( n = 2). Average moral distress (95.6 ± 66.9), professional fulfilment (6.5 ± 2.1), and burnout scores (3.6 ± 2.0) were moderate with 227 physicians (54.6%) meeting burnout criteria. A significant dose-response existed between COVID-19 patient volume and moral distress scores. Physicians who worked more days/mo and more scheduled in-house nightshifts, especially combined with more unscheduled in-house nightshifts, experienced significantly more moral distress. One in five physicians used at least one maladaptive coping strategy. We identified four coping profiles (active/social, avoidant, mixed/ambivalent, infrequent) that were associated with significant differences across all wellness measures.

Conclusions: Despite moderate intrapandemic moral distress and burnout, physicians experienced moderate professional fulfilment. However, one in five physicians used at least one maladaptive coping strategy. We highlight potentially modifiable factors at individual, institutional, and regulatory levels to enhance physician wellness.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Burnout, Professional* / epidemiology
  • COVID-19*
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Male
  • North America
  • Pandemics
  • Physicians*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology