February 29, 2024

Are you a burnt-out bioethicist? If so, you’ve got company

Are you exhausted? Are you feeling mental distance from your work?

Many doctors have said that working in hospitals during a surge in Covid-19 cases is like working in a war zone. Bioethicists are not as close to the action, but they are still experiencing burnout, says Craig Klugman, a bioethicist at DePaul University. They have had to switch to all on-line teaching, live in isolation, watch a tragedy unfold across the world, and bear the burden of reflecting on Black Lives Matter protests.

What I outline here is the experience of one bioethics scholar located in a baccalaureate teaching institution. Physicians have experienced increased burnout (1 in 4 report lower well-being in the pandemic). Most in bioethics, though, work in medical centres and hospitals. Clinical bioethicists and clinician-bioethicists faced the increased workload of caring for patients that the pandemic wrought. They had had to create allocation plans for shortages of ventilators, ECMO, unilateral DNRs, PPE, medications, and staff. We have all been advising local, state, and federal government efforts. In many large cities, bioethicists have come together to coordinate, write, and respond across institutions. Many of us have been giving our time and expertise to reporters to help them accurately convey the complexities to the general population.

This could affect the whole profession, Klugman muses:

Are we about to be hit with a wave of Bioethics Burnout? Are you exhausted? Are you feeling mental distance from your work? Do you have difficulty focusing on work tasks? Do you have negative feelings about your work or seek more mental distance from your work than usual? Are you less effective professionally than usual? Are you unexcited about spending 12 hours a day in front of Zoom for virtual academic conferences? If so, you may suffer from bioethics burnout.

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge

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